Diversifying the collections: Inclusive citizenship and public histories of exclusion

Photo: Wendelien van Oldenborgh. From La Javanaise. Documentary at Tropenmuseum, 2012.

In the 2012 documentary La Javanaise by Wendelien van Oldenborgh the Surinamese-Dutch artist Charl Landvreugd, depicted in this photograph, visits the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Throughout the film, he feels alienated by the colonial perspective offered by the museum to the point that he says: “I don’t know if I would come here with my child.”  This feeling of exclusion is more widely shared in the Netherlands, for instance by a group called “Decolonize the Museum”, which confronts precisely the colonial ideas and practices present in many museums. In the humanities, we have a lot of sophisticated theories on processes of in- and exclusion, but we still know very little about the actual ways in which museums in the Netherlands include certain groups and perspectives and exclude others.

Our project fills this lacunae by analyzing two museums: the ethnographic Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden and the mental disabilities museum Het Dolhuys in Haarlem. In these museums we study the representation of three groups: people of color, particularly important in Volkenkunde, people with disabilities, central in Het Dolhuys, and people of all genders, important in both. We investigate three different levels: of the exhibition, of the archives and of the website. Language will be a crucial issue: how are people named (for instance still “negro” or “neger”?), are they given a voice, and, finally, are people of all bodies shown as having agency?

In collaboration with museum curators and activists, our main result will be a new website, accessible to all minority groups, where we present best practices and suggest innovations to make museums more inclusive. The website will have an open and inviting format which makes it possible for other museums and institutes to join and be inspired to also rethink their exhibitions. Ultimately, we hope that one day Charl will say “I would come here with my child”.

Funded by the Research Traineeship Program of Leiden University.


Click here to go back to the full list of research projects ongoing at the KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and in collaboration with other departments and institutions.

Related Reseachers

Paul van Trigt (supervisor)
Monika Baar (supervisor)
Paul Bijl (supervisor)
Elise Hiddinga (research trainee)
Daniël Korving (research trainee)
Wayne Modest (Museum Volkenkunde)
Floris Mulder (Het Dolhuys)