Colonial ‘predatory’ must return to the countries from which it originates, without the Dutch government imposing any conditions. The opinion of the Council of Culture to Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven was clear last Wednesday. But what do they think about this in countries where art comes from, such as Suriname and Indonesia? We asked correspondents Nina Jurna (Suriname) and Annemarie Kas (Indonesia).
Suriname: injustice is corrected
Suriname was pleased to respond to the investigation. Rosaline Daan, Director of Culture at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, calls it very important that the stolen items come back and a lot of injustice is corrected. “Whether it‘s religious objects or other historical objects, I hope they find their way back home,” says Daan.
One of the objects that according to the committee’s investigation would have to return to Suriname is an 18th century banjo that Dutch-Scottish officer John Gabriel Stedman from Suriname took to the Netherlands.
Director Rosaline Daan prefers to see the banjo in Suriname in a museum. “It also has to do with a piece of our self-esteem. You read about it, but the real seeing, the real perception has not been. It is good if we Surinamese can see this in our museums and therefore have a better picture of our history and the story.”
Good conditions must first be created within Suriname to preserve the stuff well. At the moment, possibilities are limited. “Perhaps there could be a collaboration. The Netherlands already has the knowledge to set up good museums, but Suriname is not yet. Only when Suriname is ready to store the items professionally, can we submit an application”, says Daan.
Indonesia: only special works
In Indonesia, archaeologist Siswanto reacts reluctantly. He is director of the Museum Nasional, the most important museum on Indonesian national history in the capital Jakarta. “There must be a thought behind the return of objects. It‘s about quality and not quantity.”
estimated that hundreds of thousands of Indonesian objects from colonial times are stored in Dutch museum depots. Indonesia does not have a wish list of important objects that it would like to have back.
Of course, says Siswanto, when it comes to symbolic, unique objects, he likes to include them in his collection. Flags for example, or special parts of Javanese temples. But certainly not just everything. “If everything would come back, our museum would become a kind of department store,” he says.
The works of art could also create tension within Indonesia, warns Siswanto. Because who do these pieces belong to? “Many objects did not come from Jakarta, but from other parts of the country. Then they will end up here in the museum and have to say, come and look at it in Jakarta.” The Museum Nasional is the only place where pieces can be preserved and secured well enough.
Diamond of Banjarmasin
An example of a piece of art that can cause problems on return is the ‘diamond of Banjarmasin‘, a large rectangular diamond that is now hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In the 19th century, the Dutch army seized the diamond in an attack on the Sultanate of Banjarmasin in Kalimantan and since then he has been state-owned.
“ We would like to bring the diamond back to the Museum Nasional. But that is sensitive.” In Banjarmasin, descendants of the sultan find that they have the right to recover the diamond.
Practically speaking, moving art is also a costly affair according to Siswanto. As an example, he gives the move of 1500 objects from the dissolved museum Nusantara in Delft to Jakarta, last year. The art had to be transported in special containers with air conditioning. “That’s not cheap.”
The opinion of the Council for Culture on the art of robbery fits in with the development of the public debate in the Netherlands about colonial times and taking responsibility for that violent history.
In Indonesia this plays less and the country was already talking with the Netherlands about the return of cultural heritage. Siswanto: “Three weeks ago I was invited to the Dutch embassy to talk about it. Our first goal is a pleasant collaboration with the Netherlands, not that we just move everything back to Indonesia.”