Maria Holtrop, Junior Curator, History Department of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
‘Dealing with colonial history in a museum setting is not very easy.’
Current title of the painting above: “Young Woman with a Fan, Simon Maris, c. 1906”
Metadata on the title: ‘Simon Maris painted this woman on various occasions, holding a cigarette or a red fan. Perhaps she was a model, yet this painting could also be an actual portrait. For want of information, in the past it was variously titled as “The Negress, Portrait of a Mulatto, East-Indian Type, The Little Negress”. These terms are now considered derogatory. Until her name is known, the painting will bear a neutral title.’
One encounters many difficulties, dilemmas that are similar to telling other histories in the museum, but are more urgent and apparent when dealing with colonial history. What or whose story do you tell? In which way? What objects are representing colonial histories? What other mediums are available to tell these histories? And what language should be used when explaining these objects?
I will reflect on these questions while drawing from experiences I have had when working on an exhibition on the shared history of South Africa and The Netherlands and a multimedia tour on colonial history.