Appropriate appropriation



The cornerstone of collective action is consensus. Whether it is a national security council, the board of a museum, or the executives of a company, the consensus of a group of individuals is essential to making progress and taking substantive steps to address an issue. The discourse that precedes a decision by an entity like a board is essential to its decision making process. Healthy discourse foments disagreement, which can spur many things, one being innovation. This innovation pushes museums, businesses, and governments to new heights.                   Dutch national history and identity is full of differing viewpoints. That diversity makes the Dutch culture beautiful, but it also presents some challenges. The difference of opinion of “a political entity comprised of eleven provinces” bifurcates how a collective chooses to present its national narrative. (Douma, 11) Many countries choose to gloss over their national histories. For example, the Japanese limited what they taught their schoolchildren about the Rape of Janjing. (Oi, BBC) It was clear in that instance that the historical wounds were still fresh. The strong and correct thing to do would be to confront these injustices, but this does not always happen. A great example of acknowledging but not giving justice to a community is the Oosterpark monument in Amsterdam. Its brevity in highlighting the existence of slavery does not provide an adequate avenue for historically oppressed peoples, more specifically descendants of slaves, to find any sort of closure. (Fransisco, Humanity in Action) The closure I am referring to is not just acknowledgement, but equalization of rights and status in society. A monument is one form of addressing a national narrative. The first step to providing some sort of solace and justice to marginalized societies, like people who lived in Colonial Suriname, is to educate oneself and future generations. This is why exhibits like the Slavernij Mo(NU)ment are valuable tools for the Dutch populace. I think this hands-on and in-depth approach to teaching a poignant narrative such as that of Suriname is crucial to creating a true national memory. Its interactive theater experience is raw and personable.          The Dutch institutions that put forth museums and monuments carry the yoke of responsibility with regard to righting the wrongs of history. Their primary focus is education and retelling history, which is important with regard to creating a national identity. However, if they maintain the status quo, they endanger reducing the inequality that plagues Dutch society and populaces across the globe. If they acknowledge and commit to lifting up marginalized communities in museums, education, and public policy, this sends a message to the greater population that they are ready to be a more inclusive society. While the Tropenmuseum is flawed in its presentation of former colonies and communities that it enslaved, its intentions are not malicious. In fact, the way they have presented the tropical places they enslaved probably captured a critical mass of the Dutch populace. What I recently read in The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton is that for people to pay attention, sometimes they need exotic and eye drawing images and words to capture imaginations. De Botton also said that the only true way to understand another culture or race is to travel to its place of origin and immerse oneself in its culture and way of life. While this is possible for some, it is not for the many. What this means is that advertisement and grammar of museums and other exhibitions must present itself as extraordinary. Often times this results in appropriation of certain elements of culture, cherished traditions taken out of context. While this is unfortunate, it can be constructive. If the Tropenmuseum uses this to its advantage, it can validate these families and their peoples, and demonstrate their value. This can make it into a success. If they can fit them into the historical narrative in a true and honest way, (yes both honest and true) then it will be a success. I am not condoning appropriation, but sometime if certain elements are displayed, they trigger interest, and interest can lead to further understanding. A perfect example of this is the body art exhibition at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. This is not ill-intended appropriation, but a demonstration of body art and its function within different cultures. These anecdotes validate cultural traditions through video and photography, and allow the everyday Dutch citizen to view a window to another world. This catalyzes Dutch interest in something other than themselves, and to view formerly colonized people’s in a different light. That is priceless. If a museum can do that, then it has succeeded.                    The mission of the museums is to educate and create a sense of commonality. If the Dutch can find commonality with their colonized brothers and sisters, they can work more cohesively as a society, and focus on furthering the rights of all, together.



















References:  — for both content and gif


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