Boijmans explores history of colonialism in relation to collection

Contemporary artists respond to collections research. Kevin Osepa’s award-winning short film ‘La Última Ascensión’ can be seen in the Depot in Rotterdam as part of the research presentation ‘Unpacking Boijmans – The Colonial Past and the Collection’ in which the public plays an active role.

Favicon for Click here for hi-res images

In the Depot, we are conducting ongoing research into the relationship between colonialism and slavery and the museum’s collection. This research project called Unpacking Boijmans is being presented in a gallery space in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen and will deal with three themes in the coming six months: trade, iconography, and provenance and exhibition history. For each new theme, contemporary artists are invited to make subtle interventions. The first invited artist is Kevin Osepa. The Depot’s film space is showing his film ‘La Última Ascensión’ (2022, Smarthouse Films), which won the Golden Calf for the best short film at the Netherlands Film Festival last month. The film is a layered and symbolic ode to Curaçao and its countless untold stories of Afro-Caribbean and indigenous spirituality. With an intimate portrait about mourning and healing, it examines the influence of Curaçao’s pre-colonial past on the island’s present postcolonial reality. For ‘Unpacking Boijmans – The Colonial Past and the Collection’, the museum invites visitors to submit questions and to share suggestions, stories and insights in the exhibition space.

Ina Klaassen, director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: “In the Depot, we not only look after the collection, but we also conduct research into it. Storing all the objects under one roof without a traditional art-historical hierarchy creates the perfect conditions for taking a critical look at the objects – together with our visitors. The impact of the past is all around us. Unpacking Boijmans shifts the focus to aspects of the collection that have not previously been explored in depth. By showing Kevin Osepa’s film in the Depot, it enters into a dialogue with the collection. We are delighted to be able to share this with the public.” 

Alexandra van Dongen, curator of pre-industrial design at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: “This is about recognising the history of colonialism and slavery, creating a historical awareness that we can pass on to a new generation of Rotterdammers. As the mother of two Afro-Dutch sons, this is a very special time to be alive. Today’s racism stems from that colonial history: we are shaped by the past. It is wonderful to see that perspectives towards that history are changing. I have seen the museum change in my 36 years here and I am very happy to have witnessed this development. This research is filling gaps in the story of this special collection.”

Cathy Jacob, director of presentations at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: “We are literally going to sit down at a table in the gallery and set to work. We are going to ask visitors questions, and visitors can ask us questions so that we can initiate a dialogue. This will enable us to collect more stories about the objects. We are going to adopt this approach more often in the future, not just within this one study.” 

Ongoing research  

In the Depot we are carrying out research into the museum’s collection. This almost always takes place on a project basis with several of the museum’s staff members forming a team (sometimes in collaboration with external parties). For example, a restorer will inspect an artwork’s condition, a curator will contribute new art historical knowledge, and a registrar will ensure, among other things, that all information about the collection can be retrieved. These research projects are essential for the museum because they lead to new insights into the collection. How we look at art, heritage and the past is constantly changing, so research is never really complete. Unpacking Boijmans builds upon the museum’s participation in Rotterdam’s research into the city’s colonial past and involvement in the slave trade. We are exploring traces of colonialism and slavery in relation to artworks and objects in the collection on the basis of three changing themes. During a period of six months, the museum will determine, in collaboration with visitors and a sounding board, which direction the research will take next.

Theme 1: until December 2022

Trade: many items in the collection bear the traces of the colonial production, trade and consumption of sugar, tobacco, tea and coffee. For this theme, we are showing the Kevin Osepa’s film 'La Última Ascensión' (2022), and a prop from the film is displayed in the research presentation.

Theme 2: 6 December 2022 – 6 February 2023

Iconography: the museum’s collection contains artworks and objects with depictions of people that stem from colonial and racist representations. For this theme, Boris van Berkum will his Kabra Blauw vases, recently purchased by the museum, which he developed in collaboration with the Afro-Surinamese Winti priestess Marian Markelo.

Theme 3: 7 February 2023 – 2 April 2023 

Provenance and exhibition history: from the moment ‘Museum Boymans’ opened its doors to the public in 1849, the collection has been built and exhibited in keeping with a particular zeitgeist.

This research presentation was designed by Studio Ossidiana.

About Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

The world-renowned art collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has over the span of 170 years expanded to more than 151,000 artefacts, which includes some 63,000 paintings, photos, films, pre-industrial design and design objects, contemporary art installations and sculptures, as well as 88,000 prints and drawings.

Contact details

Related topics

Receive Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen news on your RSS reader.

Or subscribe through Atom URL manually