Netherlands And UN Present Dutch Slavery In New Amsterdam In A New Light Through Film And Art

Netherlands And UN Present Dutch Slavery In New Amsterdam In A New Light Through Film And Art

Dutch slavery

Though the Netherlands government has yet to itemize an actual tactile global strategy for its previously announced “slavery apology,” it appears that art, at least for the moment, is taking the lead on driving the conversation.

At the invitation of the United Nations, the Amsterdam-based national museum the Rijksmuseum produced a capsule version of its powerful slavery exhibition in New York. The free exhibit closed at the end of March culminating in the inclusion of a panel of experts at the UN headquarters. This represented the latest extension of the exhibit which opened in 2021 — initially online due to covid.  This was then followed by a physical opening to the public, documented through an in-depth film entitled “New Light – The Rijksmuseum And Slavery.” Since its initial release, “New Light” has been invited to a number of film festivals and won several awards including “Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival.”

All these elements converged in an evening event in New York City’s NeueHouse amphitheater, where the first-ever screening of “New Light” took place with Director Ida Does, a curatorial team of the museum, and several of the film’s participants all present in the same venue along with an audience of approximately 75 tastemakers.

The film is a wildly well-produced offering that takes the viewer not only the behind the scenes of the curation logistics of such a provocative exhibit dealing with a highly sensitive topic, but also provides insight into the emotional weight that the curatorial team and museum visitors navigate. Does expertly includes scenes with various individuals who reflect on their enslaved ancestors and the psycho-social challenges when confronting certain images and objects. “New Light” offers a no-holds-barred, historical depiction and education on everything from dog collars used for slaves to a long, heavy wooden plank brace used to restrain slaves. This is expertly balanced with the vulnerability the viewer observes by museum curator Eveline Sint Nicolaas and poetic touches of Black hair braiding in the museum included as creative, imaginative touches. What could have been purely didactic or perfunctory in nature as a film is instead a rich, compelling invitation to experience a cultural event on many, many different levels.

The exhibit itself is nothing less than groundbreaking.  The vast array of objects and paintings show slavery in an undeniable light. Included with these objects are interactive panels that tell the stories of people from Suriname to Brazil and more as they discuss how the Dutch slave trade impacted generations of their people. Onsite there are QR codes on each of these panels that provide the user with more information on how these descendants are connected with slave masters and freedom fighters, among others. It’s truly a triumph as the stories are not merely handed off to a production company to create. Indeed a team of historians, interior designers, artists, and a biologist who oversaw DNA analysis all collaborated to bring this special part of the exhibit to life. What is interesting to note is that the museum has elected to retain several pieces from the exhibit as part of its permanent collection.

This and more were the subject of the panel discussion conducted directly after the film screening.  The panel included “New Light” filmmaker Does; Dr. Valika Smeulders, head of the Department of History at the museum, who also moderated the panel; Sint Nicolaas, curator of history at the museum; and sisters Simba Mosis and Susi Mosis, who are featured in the film as slavery descendants and part of the community called the Maroons which managed to escape form Dutch slave traders and created their own free communities. Sint Nicolaas was particularly transparent in discussing the challenges of how to begin to create such an exhibit and what to include. She noted that many times, given the heavy emotional nature of the work, she was often in tears off-camera during the shooting of the documentary. The four women expressed gratitude for being able to be part of such a special project. Indeed Sint Nicolaas discussed the impact of working with people outside of the museum, the richness of perspective this brought, and how it will look to utilize this strategy with future exhibits.

This entire creative offering is an exercise in being able to look at horror, hope and resiliency at the same moment. It’s not an easy act to balance.

As this conversation around slavery and the Dutch continues, one can only assume that it will widen to include and acknowledge that African American descendants are impacted by the Dutch slave trade in Manhattan, formerly New Amsterdam, and Harlem, formerly Haarlem, as the economic devastation is still undeniably present.  A global story is a full story when it comes to this part of history.

If you missed the UN capsule exhibit, you can visit it online at the museum itself on demand. The film trailer can be viewed here.

Photos: Left, filmmaker Ida Does (white hair streak in front) and Dr. Valika Smeulders, head of the Department of History at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Right: Sisters Simba Mosis and Susi Mosis, descendants the Maroons who escaped from Dutch slave traders and created their own free communities. By Lauren DeLisa Coleman

Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a Digi-Cultural Trend Analyst and Producer. She’s the founder of http://lnkagency.com/ and Vapor Media, and a commentator on public sentiment and tech on MSNBC.
Agency representation: Leading Authorities. Author: “America’s Most Wanted: The Millennial” an Amazon, “Best: New Media Studies” pick: http://amzn.to/KmsuJ8