The Rijkmuseum's Latest Exhibition Explores the Netherlands and South Africa's Shared History

Nelson Mandela during his welcome on Amsterdams Leidseplein, June 16, 1990.
Nelson Mandela during his welcome on Amsterdam's Leidseplein, June 16, 1990. | © Maurice Boyer / The Rijksmuseum
Tom Coggins

By critically exploring the Netherlands’ relationship with South Africa via over 300 individual artefacts, records and artworks, the Rijksmuseum’s latest exhibition, Good Hope, successfully documents several important episodes from these two nations’ shared history. This impressive collection is the first major museological effort of its kind, and will be on display in Amsterdam until the end of May 2017.

Since 1652, when the Dutch East India Company established a trading station on the Cape of Good Hope, The Netherlands has exercised a continuous influence on the area’s culture, language and politics. After forging a foothold in southern Africa, the Dutch introduced widespread slavery in order to rapidly colonialize the cape and effectively became its main political power. These actions massively affected generations of people and partially led to South Africa‘s Apartheid regime.

Hendrik Cloete with a slave holding his pipe, c. 1788

By presenting objects drawn from this 400-year time frame, the Rijksmuseum’s exhibition simultaneously draws to light the tensions and struggles that have shaped South African history, whilst soberly exposing the enduring effects of colonization. Artwork and documents by Dutch explorers that capture their creator’s commercially driven sense of exploration are displayed besides other early colonial artefacts, attesting to the exploitative nature of foreign interests in the Cape.

Jan Brandes, The Table Mountain and Cape Town seen from the sea, 1787
Pieter Hugo, Portrait of the series 1994, 2016

A seven-part TV series will broadcast during the exhibition’s time at the Rijksmuseum, which covers specific aspects of Dutch-South African relations and an illustrated book detailing Good Hope. South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 is available from the museum.

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