Contemporary artists and documentary film makers have collectively converted this historically charged room into an exhibition space, inviting reflection on its past, present and future. In 2023 the UvA has addressed the questionable past of this so-called VOC-zaal (Dutch East India Company room) – and therefore its future – by organising the public programme Decolonial Dialogues@Humanities, consisting of performances, lectures, film screenings and panel discussions. For the time being, this exhibition is the closing intervention in this contested space.
In the presented artworks, one encounters different perspectives on the colonial history of the Netherlands and its aftermath in the present. This space, once used as a site for showcasing conquered land and goods, now exposes the violence and pain which long remained invisible in the Dutch collective memory. Moreover, the works question how processes of decolonisation take shape in society and institutions like the University of Amsterdam.
The exhibition opens on 1 December and will be open to the public until 31 January. Opening times are from Monday to Thursday from 8:00 until 20:00 and on Friday from 8:00 until 19:30. Entrance is free.
The title of the exhibition, If these walls could speak, is derived from the work of the same name created by Sites of Memory for this exhibition.
Farren van Wyk (1993) is a South African and Dutch photographer and educator. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Photography, and a Master's degree in cultural and visual anthropology. Van Wyk is a member of the African Photojournalist Association with World Press Photo, Women Photograph and Black Women Photographers. Her work has been featured on internationally recognised platforms such as i-D, The Washington Post, Photo Vogue, Der Greif and The Times UK.
Esli Tapilatu (1983) is a Dutch-Moluccan artist. With his art, he builds bridges between people and cultures. Tapilatu created a tablecloth for the table of the Amsterdam directors of the Dutch East India Company. His recent work, titled The Table of Reflection, delves into the darkness of the Dutch colonial past. As part of this project, Tapilatu crafted an art installation in the Castle of Good Hope in South Africa. His next stop will be Fort Belgica on Banda Neira, the first island colonised by the Dutch in the East Indies archipelago. There he will add an additional layer to the cloth, in cooperation with local communities.
The Sites of Memory Foundation (SoM) organises activities around the hidden and under-represented stories of the shared cultural heritage of the Netherlands and its former colonies. SoM is originated by Jennifer Tosch (cultural historian and founder of the Black Heritage Tours) and Katy Streek (theatre maker and programmer). Since 2016, they have been creating site-specific performances about the ‘hidden’ stories about slavery and colonialism. In 2020 and 2021, they developed Future for the Past, an international collaboration between multi-disciplinary artists from South Africa and The Netherlands about their shared cultural heritage. In 2022, their project Returning the Gaze was presented in Haarlem, Amsterdam, and Middelburg. Currently, they are working on Free to be Free, a performance about freedom and resistance in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Amersfoort, Deventer, and Willemstad, Curaçao.
If These Walls Could Speak is created by SoM, in collaboration with:
Timoteus Anggawan Kusno (1989) is an artist who composes and renders narratives stretching in the liminality of fiction, history, and memory. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Rijksmuseum, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Seoul, the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, the Mumbai City Museum, the Center for Fine Arts Brussels, the 13th Gwangju Biennale, and the Kunstmuseum Bonn. In 2021, Kusno received the Video Production Award from the Han Nefkens Foundation – Loop Barcelona, collaborating with the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona; Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing; MoCA Taipei; ILHAM Gallery, Kuala Lumpur; Centre d'Art Contemporain, Genève and Art Hub Copenhagen.
Zhang Ziru, Caterina Lungu, Saskia Blagaj-Berger, Valentina Prados Spitaleri, Thabise and Ghaliah Tahboub are six Media and Culture students from the University of Amsterdam. Decolonial Monologues is a documentary project they started together after discovering the silence surrounding the Bushuis' colonial history. However, throughout the making of this project, topics of discussion naturally expanded beyond simply decolonising the university to society at large as different interviewees brought in their unique perspectives. Decolonial Monologues started out as a class project in an introductory course on documentary filmmaking. However, discovering the myriad of perspectives that have yet to be explored, the students decided to continue this project in their own time in 2023. The documentary is currently in the works of being submitted to different film festivals and the team hopes to be able to find more platforms of distribution for it.
(Photos by: Bob Bronshoff)