April Program: Art Museums and the Legacies of the Dutch Slave Trade

Gerrit Schouten, Surinamese, Diorama of a Du, Dance Celebration on the Plantation (detail), 1830. Carved and painted wood with paper and other materials. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, NG-2005-24.

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Registration is now open for the conference Art Museums and the Legacies of the Dutch Slave Trade: Curating Histories, Envisioning Futures, presented by the Center for Netherlandish Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Harvard Art Museums, and Harvard University’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. This four-part program explores efforts by art museums to deploy their spaces and their collections—which are often enmeshed with colonialism and exploitation—to present more complete narratives of and perspectives on slavery and its legacies. Sessions will be held over the course of three Fridays and will feature speakers Jamaica Kinkaid, Rosana Paulino, and Cheryl Finley, as well as other prominent historians and art historians from across the Atlantic.

The conference is organized by Sarah Mallory, Kéla Jackson, and Rachel Burke, all doctoral students in Harvard University’s Department of History of Art and Architecture, and Joanna Sheers Seidenstein, the Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Curatorial Fellow in the Division of European and American Art at the Harvard Art Museums. Student research informing this conference was supported by a student grant from the presidential initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, a university-wide effort housed at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

All sessions are free and open to the public and will be held on Zoom. Separate registration for each event is required. Details and registration forms may be found at the links below.

Part 1: April 9, 2021, 1–3 p.m. EDT
Exhibiting Slavery and Representing Black Lives
Curators will discuss their work on groundbreaking projects in the Netherlands and the United States, namely the Rijksmuseum’s current Slavery exhibition, the Rembrandthuis Museum’s exhibition Here: Black in Rembrandt’s Time, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s reinstallation of its permanent collection, and the Museums Are Not Neutral initiative. They will reflect on the broader call for museums to recognize the relationship of their collections to slavery and to present-day racial injustice.

Part 2: April 16, 2021, 1–3 p.m. EDT
De-centering/Re-centering: Forging New Museological and Historical Narratives
This session brings together historians and art historians whose work has, on the one hand, been grounded in art museum collections and, on the other, challenged traditional museological narratives of slavery’s legacies in the Netherlands and the Americas.

Part 3: April 23, 2021 11 a.m.-noon EDT
History, Memory, and Legacy: Jamaica Kincaid, Rosana Paulino, and Cheryl Finley in Conversation
Renowned writer Jamaica Kincaid and groundbreaking visual artist Rosana Paulino will discuss their explorations of the legacies of slavery in their work. They will be joined in conversation by eminent art historian Cheryl Finley.

Part 4: April 23, 2021, 1-2:30 p.m.
The Work of Objects: Interpretation within and beyond Museum Walls
This session includes brief talks, followed by a roundtable discussion, by academics and museum professionals who focus on Dutch and American art and history. Speakers will discuss specific objects—ranging from the 17th to the 21st century—that have posed interpretive and museological challenges. They will also present new possibilities for considering the relationship between slavery’s past and present-day racial injustice.