In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.
Decolonizing the Curatorial
By Floor Wijers
During this course we learned a lot about different aspects of curatorial activities. The topic of this week, decolonizing the colonial, connects a couple of earlier topics we discussed in class. It locates itself between curating galleries and festivals, but is more concerned about the minorities and their participation within these events.
The first article of Elina Felipovic, from this week, focuses on the different exhibition spaces. These places based on exposing art, like galleries, museums and biennales, all have an underlying ideology, which is constructed by western ideas of exhibiting art. One of the most important examples is the ‘white cube,’ which like the cinematic ‘black-box’ is aimed to distract the viewer from the outside world and give the art piece a neutral environment. To create more equal proportions, we have to listen more to the voice of people out of decolonized countries or minorities. Every time there is a gallery or exhibition it is arranged around white modern western notions and standards.
When Elinor and I discussed this week’s topic of decolonization in art, we came up with a couple of useful case studies and examples. The most obvious museum to approach is, in our eyes, the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, but we decided to choose for alternative options to be more original. So we searched for other exhibitions in less well-known museums or exposition spaces. Because I am living in Leiden, I looked into the program of the museum of Volkenkunde (an anthropological museum in Leiden.) I found out they had an exhibition about 40 years of decolonization of Suriname, and the relationship between the Netherlands and Suriname after the independence in 1975. This topic seemed ideal to dive deeper into, regarded this weeks theme. Elinor found an exposition space with an exhibition about migration, Voices outside the Echo Chamber, in the Tolhuistuin and organised by Framer Framed. In this way we could both approach the topic in different ways.
So I visited the exhibition Suriname-Nederland 40 jaar later, 1975-2015, in the Volkenkunde Leiden. This exhibition was a really small part of the museum space, there was only one room filled with TV-screens. These TV-screens showed different compilations of clips with historical polygon journals/ news shows. Around the room there where portraits of Surinamese and Dutch people who played important roles during the independency of Suriname. There where quotes of people who flew Suriname or who travelled back from the Netherlands to Suriname, it made clear that the independency caused disunity by the Surinamese people. Also it is important to take into consideration that the independency meant that the Netherlands broke all connections with the colony, their where a lot of negotiations between the Netherlands and Suriname about the costs of development and the involvement of the Netherlands to create a fresh start for Suriname after the decolonization.
The exhibition showed videos of these negotiations between ex-prime minister Joop den Uyl and the Surinamese government. The independency caused a big national feast, but there where also many people who where more sceptic about the events. After the videos about the declaration of independency, the exhibition focused on the aftermath of the liberation of Suriname. Without the authority of the Netherlands, Suriname became a little bit out of control; this led to a military coup of general Desi Bouterse, in 1980. One of the cruellest events in the history of Suriname took place during this period, the December murders in 1982. In Fort Zeelandia, headquarter of Desi Bouterse, 15 opponents of Bouters regime where tortured and shot to dead. This led to a lot of migration from Surinamese people who fled to neighbour country French-Guyana and the Netherlands.
Besides the videos, there was a lot of background information on signs, aligned with photographs capturing the events around the independency and the period afterwards. Also the exhibition showed a few artworks from Dutch artists in collaboration with Surinamese artists, but the main focus lay on the historical events. The situation regarding to contemporary art in Suriname is similar to the situation of India, as described by Geeta Kapur. There is less attention to modern art, and very few museums in Suriname; the ones that exist are based on historical events and the colonial past. In Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, there are only three main museums, all focused on the history of the country, before and after the independency of Suriname from the Netherlands. Modern art is very exceptional and can only be found in special galleries, curated by rich people. Although the exhibition showed different point of views about the decolonization of Suriname, the current position of Suriname was underexposed.
The best way to pay attention to colonial and decolonization is to take into account different viewpoints. This makes it very difficult to create a neutral point of view, because colonial past and decolonization is experienced in very different ways. In both camps there are proponents and opponents. The most important thing I learned about this week’s topic and the exhibition in Volkenkunde, is that we have to create awareness to the different stores and underexposed decolonised countries. We have to listen more to the input of people of decolonized countries. We should give them a stage to carry out their side of the history and create spaces wherein they can express their feelings and creativity.