Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam – Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 at Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam | 28 May – 27 June 2021

Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa 

The exhibition Heren XVII VOC – Kamer Amsterdam – Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1, questions the VOC blueprint which at its core was founded on dispossession and extinction policies. The project critically looks at Coen’s vision and the role played by Heren Seventeen in bringing about this vision to fruition. The proposed installation is a visual reflection on and a rethinking of Coen’s VOC Blueprint and what he called the fruits of Dutch blood, sweat, toil and tears. 

Part of an ongoing traveling solo exhibition broken down into chapters, the project “Heren XVII” is a critical look at colonialist Jan Pieterszoon Coen, so called founder of Batavia – today’s Jakarta in Indonesia, which included; a more aggressive position of trade linked to armed power, gut wrenching violence, colonialism, plunder, total domination and “replacement” of its inhabitants. His legacy includes; Torture, Gut wrenching violence, Colonialism, Slavery and Genocide of the inhabitants of the Banda Islands, 

Installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1by Sithabile Mlotshwa 

Monopoly and Murder:  The VOC Conquers the East Indies

Coen’s Dutch East India Company had free reign to sign treaties, mint their own coins, imprison and execute at will, maintain private armies, wage wars, pass laws, build forts and seize land. But the newly-formed VOC had a thorn on its side. In 1604, a second English East India Company fleet had sailed to the spice markets of Ternate, Tidore, Ambon and Banda – and by 1617 had set up trading posts from Kalimantan to Sumatra – in direct competition with the Dutch VOC.


Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa 

The response was brutal. First, Coen and his men ransacked the West Javanese port-town of Jayakarta in 1619, renamed it Batavia (later Jakarta) and established their new VOC headquarters from its smoking ruins. Meanwhile on the other side of Indonesia, Coen had also quickly recognised the importance of the Banda Islands as the only place in the world that grew the highly precious nutmeg tree – mother of nutmeg and mace. His VOC routed the small group of English settlers who had already begun trade on the tiny island of Run. And after Coen had signed a deceptive agreement with local sultans, the VOC secured the rest of the Banda Islands in 1621 – with the execution of over 14,000 local inhabitants – to ensure a ruthless Dutch stranglehold over the globe’s only source of nutmeg. 

Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa

Two years later, in faraway Ambon – where representatives of the Dutch East India Company had signed a pact with its British competitors – ten members of the English East India Company were tortured and beheaded by the VOC in 1623. Both the Banda Island and Amboyna massacres were pivotal in leading to the quiet withdrawal of the English traders to the relative safety of India and China. Indonesia’s lucrative Spice World was now in the steel grip of the feared Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie.

Introduction of Slavery: 

To keep the archipelago productive, the Dutch repopulated the islands, mostly with slaves taken from the Dutch East Indies, India and China, working under command of Dutch planters (perkeniers). The original natives were also enslaved and were ordered to teach the new arrivals about nutmeg and mace production. The treatment of the slaves was severe—the native Bandanese population dropped to 100 by 1681, and 200 slaves were imported annually to keep the slave population at a total of 4,000. 

About the Banda Massacre

Judging that Bandanese resistance to Dutch attempts to establish their commercial supremacy in the archipelago had to be crushed once and for all, Coen wrote a letter to the Heeren XVII on 26 October 1620, stating: ‘To adequately deal with this matter, it is necessary to once again subjugate Banda, and populate it with other people. As proposed, the Heeren XVII instructed him to subjugate the Bandanese and drive their leaders out of the land

On 21 April, by means of torture, the Dutch extracted confessions from the Orang kaya about a conspiracy against them. Coen captured at least 789 Orang kaya along with their family members and deported them to Batavia, where many were enslaved. Having been accused of breaking the treaty and conspiring against the Dutch, 24 Orang kaya were sentenced to death and decapitated by Japanese mercenaries on 8 May. The executions did not quell native resistance, however, so Coen ordered his troops to sweep the island and to destroy its villages in order to force the surrender of the population. The next few months the Dutch and the natives were engaged in fierce fighting. Witnessing the destruction caused by the Dutch, many natives chose to die of starvation or from jumping off the cliffs rather than surrender.

It is estimated that when the Dutch arrived, the Banda Islands had at least 15000 inhabitants and when the Dutch took control about 1000 inhabitants were left. And all this violence…was for nutmeg and the profit that came from this. 

The still celebrated murderous colonialist whose statue still stands in Hoorn, received 3000 guilders for a job well done.

Chapter one will be presented in Amsterdam as this city was the headquarters of VOC’s HerenXVII or Heren Zeventien. The exhibition presented in Chapters, will go to different cities where each chapter will reflect on the City’s role and function. The cities where the chapters will take place include: Zeeland (Middelburg), responsible for one-fourth of the activities, Noorderkwartier or West-Friesland (Enkhuizen and Hoorn), which provided one-eighth of the activities where Maaze (Delft and Rotterdam), also had one-eighth of the activities.

The travelling exhibition, broken down into chapters is as follows:

Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1

Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Zeeland Rethinking – Coen’s Vision Part 2

Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Delft | Rethinking Coen’s Vision part 3

Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Rotterdam Rethinking Coen’s Vision part 4

Heren XVII | VHerenOC – Kamer Enkhuizen | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Chamber part 6

Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Hoorn | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 6

After chapter 6, all the produced and exhibited works in the 6 chapters will be presented in the form of a solo exhibition. Details of the presentation of all the six chapters will be available in due time.

Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa
Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa

Detail of the installation – Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam | Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1 by Sithabile Mlotshwa