Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam

The Tropenmuseum is an ethnographic museum started in 1864 and located in Amsterdam. I have visited it on numerous occasions and each time I discover something new.  Recently, I was intrigued by their marvellous exhibition called Fashion Cities Africa.

In this show they have on display visually dramatic and gorgeously textured fabrics. They have a room filled with yards of material hung from the ceiling. You can sit in the middle and just soak in the richness of the hues. It is a treat for the eyes and such a wonderful celebration of color. The prints are vivid and distinct. Their weaves simple yet imaginative.

The show is on till 6 January 2019 so you have ample time to plan out a visit. Added bonus: a transgressive show on “Body Art” that celebrates the practice of body modification. Having always been an admirer of it, I was delighted to witness this  art form receive its rightful place in curated displays within the museum.

I admire the manner in which they have designed the museum and preserved history. I initially hesitated to visit, wondering if it will be a big hurrah of colonial plunder with a footnote about – “Oh this is bad but…” However, the exhibits are sensitively put forth. The displays offer information on how material was originally used and how it was usurped / organized, about why it is presented here. There is respect. Most importantly, there is no denial. Apology is not offered as an afterthought and I appreciate that.

We cannot shy away from uncomfortable truths and this manner of representation offers a bridge.  An example of this is the exhibition, “Afterlives of Slavery.” Their website describes it as a space that places “the enslaved and their descendants centre stage. To initiate a sometimes difficult but productive dialogue” it says, “the Tropenmuseum has sought out personal stories from past and present that bring the history of slavery and its current-day legacies up close.” The words “difficult but productive dialogue” is pertinent.

Though colonialism manifests itself in different ways now and persists. It is important to keep reminding ourself that voice and representation is so essential. Pushing topics underneath the carpet has never been known to help perhaps it is time we hung them from the ceiling and sit in dharna.

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