To what extent was Groningen involved in the trade of enslaved people? Where are those links still visible to this day? What effect do those connections have on contemporary society?
There are the questions that dozens of exhibits across the city and province will address during the cultural manifesto “Bittersweet Heritage” (Bitterzoet Erfgoed), which will last from February through September of 2022.
Groningen’s link in the chains
While many Dutch people presume that the Dutch West and East India Companies only operated out of the southern provinces, there are many places across the city with direct connections to the company.
On Keti Koti (Remembrance Day marking the official end of slavery in Suriname on 1 July – “Keti Koti” means “the chain is broken” in Sranan Tongo, which is spoken in Suriname) in recent years, there have been guided tours of sites in the city that trace back to the colonial period which were directly linked to the trade of enslaved people. Curious to learn more? You can schedule your own tour through the Discrimination Hotline Groningen website.
In 2021, the Groningen branch of D66 (democrats 66), a centrist political party, called for the city of Groningen to formally apologise for its role in the trade of enslaved people and imperialism.
To learn more about the north’s bittersweet legacy, there are two great books (in Dutch) about Groningen and Friesland’s history when it comes to colonialism and slavery. And check out some reporting by The Northern Times to explore the traces of the Dutch West India Company’s offices in Groningen.
On Tuesday, 15 February, Studium Generale will host one of the first events connected to Bittersweet Heritage: a conversation about how Dutch museums can become decolonised. The discussion will be hosted by Jennifer Tosch, the creator of Black Heritage Tours in Amsterdam (tracing the city’s links to slavery), and will feature guests Susan Legêne and Raul Balai.
Here’s are the highlights coming to local performing arts and cultural venues in the next few months:
On Friday, 18 February at 14:00, the Bittersweet Heritage cultural manifestation will officially begin at Forum Groningen during a (free) live talk show, hosted by Jerry Silvano, with guests mayor Koen Schuilling and Mirjam Wulfse, a representative of the Groningen provincial government, and music by Izaline Calister, a Dutch-Curaçaoan singer and songwriter in Groningen. The kick off event will also be streamed live online.
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Art in the Akerk
The Akerk will feature works of art by four artists of colour specially created for Bittersweet Heritage, curated by Ricardo Burgzorg – tickets start at 6 euros.
Aimée Terburg, a Surinamese Dutch artists, has created a spatial installation in the choir section of the church featuring canvases built on soaring, vertical constructions, using ever-changing colours and patterns to depict the dual nature of historic slavery.
In the sacristy, the Antillean-Surinamese artist Faisel Saro has a piece combining drawings and projections to focus on the importance of the Winti religion in the slavery resistance movement and its opposition to Christianity.
Esli Tapilatu, who is Molokan-Dutch, is an artist and social designer, and her piece in the church is a visual interpretation of the effects on the soul of the first Dutch presence in the Moluccan islands in Indonesia. Tapilatu incorporates Biblical imagery of sin and injustice to place the colonial past firmly in the present.
The most prominent piece in the Akerk exhibit is a 2.5 x 35 meter long tapestry, depicting the traces of the slave trade that are still visible in Groningen. The tapestry was designed by the Surinamese-Dutch illustrator and visual artist Hedy Tijn. The tapestry will be woven in real time by volunteers with experience working with textiles during the exhibition.
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19 February through 11 September: Black in Groningen
At Groningen’s flagship modern art museum, the Groninger Museum, an exhibition featuring painting and sculptures made in Groningen depicting people of colour will be on display from 19 February through 11 September. According to the museum’s info on the exhibit, many of the artworks were portraits commissioned by prominent families who were heavily involved in slavery overseas, typically in the former Dutch colonies.
Faisel Saro, whose own work will be on featured at the Akerk, and author Vamba Sherif, will place the artworks in context, and items from the museum’s permanent collection which have some connection to colonial history will also be featured.
through 18 March: DichtLicht op het verleden
Through 18 March, you can witness “DichtLicht op het verleden” at the Tschumi pavilion (the glass art gallery space at the Hereplein roundabout). This short exhibition “shares personal stories of Groningers about the impact of the slavery past in their (family) lives”, according to Kunstpunt Groningen (you can listen to an audio recording of the poem at their website as well). The lighting installation, created by Lambert Kamps, writes out the words of on of four poems by Groningen’s poet laureate, Myron Hamming. Each of the poems was based on the stories of locals, telling how colonial history influenced their lives.
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Other participating cultural centers in and around Groningen include Museum Nienoord, SPOT venues, University Museum, Kinderboekenhuis, Fraeylemaborg, GRID, Museum aan de A, and Eemsdelta. Be sure to visit the main site for the exhibition for information about dates, times and tickets.