CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Online CODARTfocus: Slavery Exhibition at the Rijksmuseum

On Tuesday 20 April 2021 CODART organized an online CODARTfocus meeting about the exhibition Slavery at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. During the CODARTfocus, the exhibition curators talked about their experiences in the preparations of this exhibition. Afterwards there was time for questions and exchange of thought with the participants.


During an interactive Zoom meeting, the four curators of the exhibition, Valika Smeulders (Head of the History department), Eveline Sint Nicolaas (Curator of History), Maria Holtrop (Curator of History) and Stephanie Archangel (Junior Curator of History) elaborated on their roles in the organization and preparations. The session was moderated by Adam Harris Levine, Assistant Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The curators discussed various topics such as the origins of the exhibition, the choice for ten personal stories and how to present them, the impact the exhibition will have on the display of the permanent collection, and the attention to language and terminology, as well as blind spots and lessons learned. The panel was available for questions and participants were invited to share their thoughts and experiences as well.

The exhibition

The exhibition focuses on slavery in the Dutch colonial period, spanning from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. It covers trans-Atlantic slavery in Suriname, Brazil and the Caribbean, and the part played in it by the Dutch West India Company (WIC), as well as Dutch colonial slavery in South Africa and Asia, where the Dutch East India Company (VOC) operated. The exhibition also highlights the effects of the system in the Netherlands in this time. As a whole it offers a geographically broad and at the same time specifically Dutch view which has never been seen before in a national museum.

The exhibition tells ten true stories from people who were involved in slavery in one way or the other. In addition to objects, paintings and archival sources from Dutch and foreign museums, archives and private collections, the visitor is also presented with oral sources, poems and music. The exhibition ends with the project Look at me now by artists David Bade and Tirzo Martha, who invite the visitors to help create ten new works of art based on the stories from the exhibition. Beyond the exhibition itself, the Rijksmuseum is adding extra information labels to some 80 objects in the permanent collection, to highlight and explore hidden links to slavery.

The exhibition has not opened yet as the Rijksmuseum is closed until at least 20 April. The exhibition will open when Covid restrictions are loosened. For more information on the exhibition and opening times, see the museum website.


The documentary Nieuw Licht – Het Rijksmuseum en de slavernij follows the curators of the exhibition during the preparations. We recommend to watch it before the CODARTfocus, as it gives you an idea of the process. You can watch it here (Dutch spoken with Dutch subtitles; availability depending on your location).