Wereldmuseum: the new name for Tropenmuseum, Afrika Museum, and Museum Volkenkunde
Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, and Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden together with Wereldmuseum Rotterdam will continue under one name: Wereldmuseum. The museum group, together accounting for over 310,000 visitors in 2022, announced the transition in March this year and is now following up with a new logo.
The new name, Wereldmuseum, aligns with the museums’ developments in recent years. The exhibitions and activities consistently seek to connect urgent global themes with historical context, explained from multiple perspectives for as complete a worldview as possible. The Wereldmuseum explores what it means to be human, what our connection is with the world around us, and how we relate to each other. It is characteristic of the Wereldmuseum that artefacts and art from around the world are showcased, each time exploring how people everywhere give meaning to their lives in different ways. And how they leave their sometimes tangible, sometimes abstract imprint on life. This had to be reflected in the new logo. Together, the handwritten letters W and M form a human figure, and they will be written slightly differently by different people, showing infinite variety – just like humans themselves.
One museum, four locations
Tropenmuseum, Afrika Museum, and Museum Volkenkunde merged in 2014. In 2017, they formed an intensive partnership with Wereldmuseum Rotterdam. For years, these museums have shared a joint mission: to inspire global citizenship. From 4 October 2023, the four locations will bear the same name: Wereldmuseum. Managing Director Marieke van Bommel: ‘In our exhibitions, activities, and ongoing research, our starting point is this world that we share and in which we influence one another. We hope to foster understanding, compassion, and empathy and, in doing so, to contribute to a more equitable and just world. In this process, a critical self-evaluation is in order. Our museum acknowledges its colonial past. The collection, consisting of about 500,000 objects and 700,000 photographs, was in part looted during the colonial era.’
Over the past decade, the museum has focused heavily on decolonisation. Van Bommel continues: ‘In our view, decolonisation is about letting go and “unlearning” the Eurocentric thinking that is ingrained in our society. This mindset does not align with the more equitable world we want to contribute to with our activities.’ Part of the decolonisation process is the museum’s ongoing research into the provenance of the objects in collaboration with other museums, government agencies, and universities, and especially with communities of origin. In July this year, 485 objects were returned to Indonesia. ‘To us, restitution is about more than just returning objects. It is about taking responsibility for our own history, acknowledging injustice, and finding a path to recovery. And about respecting others with whom we share the planet, and finding common futures,’ says Van Bommel. The museum actively involves communities in the creation of exhibitions. In 2018, the museum published the book Words Matter. This publication sheds light on the impact of word choice and provides tools for making different choices. ‘The language used in our museums has already been adjusted; we continue on this path under a new name.’
WERELDMUSEUM PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE
Under the new collective name, the museums are future-proof and looking forward to a year of great programming on themes that impact daily lives around the globe.
For a start, Wereldmuseum locations are programming various activities during Black Achievement Month this autumn. The central focus is on narratives about slavery and its legacy, but there is also room to look to the future. Highlighting various art forms from the Black community paves the way to finding (or re-finding) dignity.
On 30 November, Wereldmuseum Rotterdam opens the exhibition Colonialism and Rotterdam, which shows how the global legacy of colonialism continues to influence the city, where local, national, and international histories converge. About the city’s growth as a result of colonialism and Rotterdam’s quays as a place of departure and arrival. And about the impact of the colonial past on traditions and new urban culture, how the glorification of the past is reflected in streets and museum collections, and what the impact is on ideas and social relations.
In the coming year, Wereldmuseum Leiden and Wereldmuseum Rotterdam will focus on contemporary African art. A change seems to be happening. Where the first generation of modernist artists searched for their own identity within a postcolonial world, contemporary artists are pushing back against cultural assimilation and creating an autonomous perspective. The exhibitions reflect on current social discussions around global themes such as cultural heritage, migration, and decolonisation.
In May 2024, Wereldmuseum Amsterdam will launch its Martial Arts exhibition. Martial arts are quintessentially a form of intangible cultural heritage: as a tradition, meditation, sport, self-defence, and body culture. Martial arts appear in different forms around the world. Some have an ancient history, and more than one has become popular in continents other than where it originated. Seeing how similar cultural phenomena occur in different places can make us reflect on what it means to be collectively human.