Exploring inclusiveness within the Dutch national museum representation

In this blog, I will discuss the current inclusive nature of the Rijksmuseum’s permanent art collection and the Tropenmuseum’s permanent exhibition on the Dutch East Indies. Based on personal observation, in-depth interviews with curators and exhibition-makers and a qualitative survey with visitors, several aspects of improvement can be addressed for both museums in their journey to create a stronger inclusive museum display. Please see my earlier blog for more information on inclusiveness.

Reflections on Inclusiveness

On a curatorial and material display level, both museums contain a different approach in their creation of display. Where the Rijksmuseum develops a narrative based on the available collection, the Tropenmuseum creates a visual display based on people and storytelling. The current permanent collection and exhibition of both museums are narrated from a Dutch white colonising perspective as the dominant perspective is mostly portrayed through traditional interpretation techniques.

Visitor level perception

On a visitor level, both museums showed similarities in the perceptions of the visitors. Visitors of the Rijksmuseum mentioned that the narrative of Dutch wealth excludes the “darker” side of the Dutch Golden Age, for it is purely a showcase of glorification of this era. Overexposure of the Dutch colonising perspective was believed to produce an exclusive representation by visitors of the Tropenmuseum.

Identity representation

The identity represented by both museums is strongly exclusive as well, for the collection and exhibition is emphasising only one segment of the current Dutch nation. By excluding the less comfortable sides of Dutch colonial history, or by depicting an acknowledgement of this, shows that the representation of Dutch colonial history and memory is not inclusive.  Please refer to the full article for a thorough discussion on these levels.

Advice for stronger inclusiveness

Based on the reflections discussed in the article, several points of advice can be provided for both museums.

  • A stronger bottom-up approach in the creation of the display is advised. Developers need to work more closely and continuously together in the creation of the exhibition with local communities, experts from assorted backgrounds and visitors;
  • It is recommended that the Rijksmuseum moves away from their collection based approach. Arts and objects should be displayed in connection with the context of the narrative. The material display should not exist of what is available or accessible to support a historical narrative, but historic objects should contribute to a narrative that allows interpretation in a contemporary context;
  • Stronger personal storytelling that showcases the counter sides of Dutch colonisation or through a different lens is essential;
  • To support a representation that reflects identities beyond the dominant, the collection needs to display objects that incorporate narratives of less convenient nature and from a former subservient cultural perspective reflected in current Dutch society (i.e.: Surinam, Dutch Caribbean, East Indies).
  • More perspectives need to be included in the development of the forthcoming exhibitions of both museums. These perspectives (i.e.: local communities of Surinamese-Dutch, Caribbean-Dutch, or Indonesian-Dutch descent, experts, artists, visitors, citizens) should represent the currently underexposed perspectives.