Tropenmuseum brings the world inside

December 2008 -

On invitation from the Tropenmuseum, an international audience flocked to the free symposium on the new organisation of the museum's permanent collections, December 11, 2008. After a clear presentation by Professor Susan Legêne, who was responsible for the reorganisation as former head of the conservators, the audience was given ample opportunity to visit all seven galleries.


On the first storey, symposium participants viewed a range of objects and stories from Southeast Asia, including textiles from Indonesia, and from the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea and Round and about India. The next storey highlights Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia and North Africa.

Specialists were invited to participate in the panel discussion: Okwui Enwezor, best known for Documenta XI in Kassel (1998-2002), Henrietta Lidchi, responsible for the World Cultures department of the National Museums of Scotland, and Jyotindra Jain, Professor with the School of Arts and Aesthetics of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

With Professor Kitty Zijlmans as moderator, the following, sometimes heated views were voiced: Enwezor wondered whether an ethnological museum can really communicate current knowledge. Lidchi praised the variation in mises-en-scène and telling various perspectives of a story, albeit that this sometimes paints an imbalanced picture. Professor Jain complimented the museum for its integration of contemporary and popular culture, noting that in the case of India, the integration was limited to a footnote. His question of whether the global art world can be left out of an anthropological museum triggered Enwezor to discuss the issues involved in contemporary art and to assert that a new context is needed for those artists who currently have no platform.

In closing, Zijlmans thanked the museum for its courage in bringing the outside world in for the purpose of commenting on the reorganised exhibitions: "I don't want to be a nuisance, but I think you could probably start over again." Director Schenk: "When society knocks on our door and asks to be heard, that is a great gift. The next reorganisation will be less long in coming than the fifteen years that this one took."