“One of the most important Dutch exhibitions of the 21st century has started: the golden carriage. And not because of the splendor and boasting and kitsch of the carriage, but important about the art of 16 contemporary artists reflecting on the carriage and its traditions and history with special new work. Powerful, outspoken, surprising, phenomenal works of art that question, and tone and deepen and confront. A golden carriage as a national masterpiece that belongs in a fairy tale or actually in a museum in the future? The side panel Hulde der Koloni ënn on the carriage is a fantasy image, intertwined in real and in history with colonialism, slavery, exploitation, cheap contract workers, oppression, looting, murder, imperialism. This exhibition strongly emphasizes the need for more debate and more education about the Netherlands and the kingdom with its colonial past. To tell the right true history. To talk about how the past still works on current generations whose colonies parents and ancestors. To speak up for a better future. To speak for more understanding and recognition.” Rudy Di Damsko
The installation “A truly Dutch Creation, the Citizen as Investor and Stakeholder” reflects on the Golden Coach as a symbol of Dutch Glory and the Colonial Empire. The starting point is the positioning of white women as a symbol of innocence and greatness as opposed to the actual role they, too, have played and continue to play in our shared history. The allegorical female figures on the coach as well as in paintings in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum and other museums, form the the installation’s core.The work is inspired by the public apology of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima after their vacation in Greece during the pandemic last year. Mlotshwa hopes the royals will have a role in further opening the curtain that still shrouds the history of colonialism and slavery. Only in this way can awareness grow in (Dutch) society regarding the many threads which connect the past and present, both with each other and with places all over the world.
This installation, a reflection on the Golden Carriage is part of the Dutch Context and upcoming dialogues and exhibitions for rethinking the Dutch Golden Age and Empire. All the Dutch Context exhibitions that will be presented this year, fall under the head theme – “Crown Jewels – Building a Nation – Building an Empire – the Citizen as Investor and Stakeholder.” This ongoing body of work is developing through Sithabile Mlotshwa’s investigative research on the Dutch Empire, as well as dialogues on what she calls, our shared history and through contributions from experts sharing their knowledge and exchanges with Dutch citizens.
Sithabile began working on this project in 2018 in Leeuwarden during the European Cultural Capital project entitled “Iepen Miskiep,” Open Community, where she was invited to reflect on this theme and respond from an international perspective to “Iepen Mienskip” a Frisian way of life, which they proposed as an approach to solving the controversial issues facing the Western world – among them, “Migration, Inequality, Racism and the Climate Crisis.” The inception of Mlotshwa’s project was from the belief that it is not possible to solve these controversial issues without getting to their root cause. The search for the root cause, gave birth to this major research based project whose core is in retracing the causes and legacies of our shared history from the perspective of trade. As trade, ushered in and was the underbelly of Europe’s Global conquests including, plunder, gut wrenching violence, dispossession, genocide, colonialism, deforestation, extinction of species, racism, inequality, forced migrations, environmental degradation, injustice and slavery, which were all needed for the realisation of its empire.
The Dutch context exhibitions, presented in phases/chapters, are not an end result, but rather are part of the process of continuing the dialogue with diverse audiences in and outside the Netherlands. While the starting point of the reflections are rooted in the Dutch Golden Age and legacies of the Dutch Empire, the results of this reflection will then after connect from the Dutch story to that of the world.
Two of Mlotshwa’s Chapters are currently showing in two venues, the first Chapter currently on view is Heren XVII | VOC – Kamer Amsterdam – Rethinking Coen’s Vision Part 1, exhibited in the exhibition UPDATE 1 at Arti et Amicitiae Amsterdam | 28 May – 27 June 2021 and the second Chapter being the above mentioned installation presented at the Amsterdam Museum. To see the exhibition with the first Chapter please click this link: https://www.arti.nl/tentoonstelling/update-i/
In the coming months, Mlotshwa will present 10 more Chapters in different cities. These will be presented in the form of traveling exhibitions that include workshops and dialogues with diverse audiences. Each Chapter, will address the colonial ties/links of each city in the form of dialogues, presented works, interviews, workshops and ongoing – developing body of work. Mlotshwa’s main interest is in critically engaging with citizens in the different cities of the Netherlands in order to begin the dialogue on the way Dutch society sees or places itself in this history.
These exhibitions, whose takeoff point questions the position of the citizen, will be based on reflecting on the below legacies of the Dutch Empire.
Legacies of Empire that ushered in the Dutch Golden
2021 is an important year for the commemoration of Dutch Colonialism and Slavery. It’ll be four hundred years ago when Jan Pietersz Coen decimated the population of the Banda Islands in order to enforce a monopoly of the trade of nutmeg.
8 May: Execution of 8 Orang Kaya… extreme violence followed. Of the 15,000 Islanders some 1,000 survived the bloodshed… its not certain what happened to the other 14,000: scholars agree that many were murdered / died as a consequence of Coen’s actions, many fled, some did manage to return to the islands (often in Slavery). For a full overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_conquest_of_the_Banda_Islands
It’s important to note that afterwards the so-called Perkeniersstelsel was introduced: A system of Slavery which relied on captives from Java and elsewhere in Asia. It was the first such Slavery-system that the Dutch introduced in Asia. For hundreds of years it would guarantee the production and trade of Nutmeg and Foelie.
2021 is also an important year for two other reasons:
- 70 years ago (1951) 12,500 Moluccans arrived in the Netherlands, consisting of 3,500 KNIL soldiers and their family members.
- June 3, 1621: WIC was erected.
Sithabile Mlotshwa (Bulawayo, Zimbabwe 1975) is a visual artist, curator, and cultural producer. Her major project In Search of Ubuntu – https://sithabileinfryslan.wordpress.com/about-the-project/ – questions our shared history. From the perspective of “trade” and through an artistic lens, Mlotshwa explores and makes connections between the reproduction of violence, inequality, oppression, racism, sexism, and environmental impact.