Colonial art collections to be scrutinised in pioneering four-year project

Photo: Ferry Herrenbrugh, Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
Photo: Ferry Herrenbrugh, Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

University researchers will help museums to establish the origin of the colonial objects in their collections to provide the proper context and as a possible first step to returning them, Trouw reports.

The project, which will scrutinise the collections of nine museums, will take four years and cost €3.5m.

Apart from creating a data base of objects, artists, social organisations and organisations from the countries concerned will think of ways of presenting them in a proper context, making clear what the objects mean to people in the country of origin.

Exhibitions and debating sessions will involve the public in the question of what the significance of the objects is, the organisers said. An object may be of religious value to an African community but it also says something about how the missionaries set out to convert people.

Many museums are in favour of returning the objects but in practice not all recipient museums have the capacity to store and present them adequately and would prefer to have them stay in the Netherlands.

Not all museums are aware of the presence of the objects in the Netherlands and some of the Dutch museums do not know exactly what objects they have and what to do with them.

The project, dubbed ‘Pressing Matter’ is the first to tackle the controversial issue of stolen colonial art. ‘In the Netherlands and the neighbouring countries the discussion about what to do with colonial objects has been going on for some time but we are the first to come up with a plan,’ director of the umbrella organisation of world culture museums Wayne Modest told Trouw.

The investigations will include human remains and other objects gathered for scientific study in colonial times so the collections of a number of hospitals will be scrutinised as well.

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