Global Slavery – Representation & Redress

Global Interactions First Annual Event 2015

June 11-12, 2015 | Global Slavery and the Exhibitionary Impulse

GI Global Slavery JPEG 2

Part 1: Global Slavery – Representation and Redress
International Multidisciplinary Workshop

June 11-12 2015
Research Center for Material Culture
The Netherlands



July 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the enslaved in the Dutch Caribbean. Several museums, including the Amsterdam Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Tropenmuseum, and the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam, organized major exhibitions as part of the commemorative year, exploring the historical legacies of colonial slavery within the Dutch Kingdom.

These exhibitions became focal points within the unprecedented attention given to colonial slavery’s past in public and academic discourse that year, especially within institutions of display.  Yet these acts of commemoration were not without their contradictions or tensions. Indeed while these major museums staged exhibitions on slavery, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacies  (NINSEE) – the only permanent institution in the Netherlands dedicated to the public representation of the slavery past – had to close its permanent exhibitions due to the withdrawal of government support. Moreover, the year was marked by contested public discussions about the role of slavery, colonialism, and their afterlives in contemporary Dutch society, which inform the increasingly embattled discourses of citizenship and belonging in the Netherlands, as well as on issues of racism in contemporary Dutch society.

The situation in the Netherlands was, however, not unique. Indeed, 2013 in the Netherlands could be productively compared with 2007 in the United Kingdom, the US and the Caribbean, where numerous museum exhibitions and other public programs were staged to mark the bicentenary of the end of the Atlantic trade of enslaved Africans. Or similarly in other places across the world, including countries in Africa and Latin America, where questions about how to represent the role of the slavery’s past in the present and how that past can be best represented is often a contested field. It is these practices of making slavery histories public, as it were, that this workshop will explore.

Taking the Netherlands as a starting point we want to critically explore some key questions that lurk in the shadows of representing the slavery past in museums and through other media. The workshop brings together curators from different museums – including the Smithsonian Institution (USA), the International Slavery Museum (UK), Ikizo Museums of South Africa, and the Historical Museum of Nantes (France) – along with scholars from across the world to think about how slavery is and has been represented in West Africa, South Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, the USA and in Europe. The aim is to raise awareness of and think through the politics, problematics and possibilities of exhibiting and representing slavery within a global perspective.

In this workshop we will explore the following questions:

  • What philosophical and discursive climate was necessary for slavery to happen in the first place; that is, why was it morally acceptable to enslave some groups and not others? What classificatory systems were in operation and what were the conditions for their emergence and deployment? To what extent are these ideas still in traction in cross-cultural, national and public thought?
  • How might terms such as ‘international slavery’ or notions of colonial slavery as a world system serve or limit our abilities to address the specificities of trans-Atlantic slavery?
  • How do we represent ‘historical catastrophe’ when the archive and representation always constitute and create gaps? What resources and frameworks can curators draw from in order to make these occurrences present when language itself often cannot sufficiently articulate such absences?
  • Finally, what are the most promising concepts or frameworks that might help us imagine new modes of representation that can confront and address these difficult and complex histories?

This event is the first part of the first Global Interactions Annual Event. This year’s theme, Global Slavery, will be taken up in two parts; the second event called The Politics and Poetics of Redress will take place in November 2015. Together, these activities aim to bring critical and engaged public attention to important issues concerning slavery pasts and their legacies in the present.



This entry was posted on May 29, 2015 by .
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