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Black Lives Matter - New network of Dutch museums

How are people of color represented in art collections? And do young people of color feel that museum collections reflect their norms and values? Developmental psychologist Carolien Rieffe is invited to serve on the Expert Group ‘Musea bekennen kleur’ because of her knowledge of children and young people.

‘Musea bekennen kleur’ is a new network of major Dutch museums that aims to anchor diversity and inclusion in the museum and heritage sector in a sustainable manner. Under the inspiring leadership of researcher and sociologist, Aspha Bijnaar, "We are proud of ‘Musea bekennen kleur’ as it grows and starts to better reflect the contours of a broader movement. 

Does this culture include me?

Within this social movement, the Tate museum in London is – for example – looking for the name of an anonymous black woman portrayed in the role of a servant. Rieffe: "This gives her an identity, which never comes into question for white people in paintings from the colonial past. The question is, what does this representation in this museum collection do to the self-image of young people of color, regarding their own views on their own position in society? Young people of color may ask legitimate questions: ‘Does this culture include me? What does this say about my history, about my great-grandmother or great-grandfather?’ Many teenagers no longer go to museums. But how could museums attract young people, or – perhaps more importantly – how can young people themselves contribute? Many young people already express themselves through different art forms. "

Multicultural Netherlands

Bijnaar considers it important that the museum and heritage sector present itself more as part of an increasingly multicultural Dutch society, where as many people as possible – in all their diversity – can take their place in it for granted. "We are concerned with not only recognizing how the museum presents itself externally, but also through its staff representation. That is why I am glad we are targeting the professionals of tomorrow." A growing number of large Dutch museums are now actively contributing to the network. Rieffe: "BLM has been a huge boost for a movement that has been going on in the black community for a long time. Now it is finally catching on in wider society.”

Young people of color

Bijnaar has invited Rieffe to serve on the Expert Group ‘Musea bekennen kleur’ because of her knowledge of children and young people. Rieffe: "Culture is an expression of prevailing norms and values. Do children and young people of color agree with these?” ‘Musea bekennen kleur’ provides an educational program for eighth graders that poses a core question: Why is it important to keep talking about diversity and inclusion? Bijnaar: "We want students to become aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion, and provide them with concrete solutions in their immediate environment, both now and later in their career."

Sylvana Terlage

Diversity in the media

Sylvana Terlage is a communication specialist for Museums Acknowledging Color, and adds that diversity in the media is also extremely important. "The media and the cultural sector are pre-eminent platforms for challenging people to look at each other differently, and – above all – listen to other perspectives. It is precisely there that more representations of different world views are needed."

Black perspective

Bijnaar attaches great importance to her connection with Leiden University. "Carolien Rieffe has for many years shown great involvement in issues that are now leading to a bigger debate through the BLM movement. Many years ago, Carolien investigated the emergence of Black Studies in the 1960s in the US: why did the black community in the US find it necessary to challenge the results of scientific publications? Why were there only white scientists, and why was a black perspective in science absent? These questions are still relevant today. Carolien wants to make science and scientists aware of this.” Rieffe looks ahead: "A leading question should be whether young people of color endorse the prevailing norms and values."

Banner left to right: Aspha Bijnaar (Musea Bekennen Kleur), Touria Meliani (Culture Counsilor in Amsterdam) and Lidewij de Koekkoek (Museum het Rembrandthuis) at the opening of the exhibition 'Here. Black in Rembrandt's time'.

Musea Bekennen Kleur

This initiative by the Central Museum Utrecht, Bonnefanten, Van Abbemuseum and Frans Hals Museum is also embraced by the other museums in the Netherlands. The Museums not only want to talk about diversity and inclusion, but also actively bring this forward in their museums. This led to the emergence of the Expert Group “Musea Bekennen Kleur”. The Expert Group consists of 20 people, actively involved in the domains of heritage, science, arts, education, and journalism. In close collaboration with the participating museums, they will develop a manifest for the upcoming years to achieve the goals set by the aim for diversity and inclusion.

'Here. Black in Rembrandt's time' in Het Rembrandthuis is extended until 6 September 2020.
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