High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


Our Colonial Legacy

What is today's relationship between the Low Countries and their colonial past? The articles in this series have been written by personalities from the Netherlands, Indonesia, Suriname, Belgium and Congo.

KVS Malcolm X Danny Willems 16 DW2725
arts Erwin Jans
10 min reading time

How Much Colour Can The Flemish Art World Tolerate?

Superdiversity and interculturality have become inevitable facts. An articulate generation with diverse backgrounds is demanding its place. How is the debate conducted in the Flemish cultural sector, and in particular in the performing arts?

history Kiza Magendane
13 min reading time

A Museum of Compromise

After five years of renovation and decolonisation, the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren opened again. Dutch writer of Congolese descent, Kiza Magendane visited the museum with mixed feelings.

Zwarte Piet Sinterklaas supermarkt Hellevoetsluis
5 min reading time

The 'Black Pete' of W.B. Yeats

For some, he was a servant, for others a vanquished devil. However, the Irish poet W.B. Yeats sheds a different light on the origins of the controversial Black Pete tradition.

history Ewald Vanvugt
10 min reading time

The Colonial Debate in the Netherlands in Four Monuments

What did the Dutch know, through the ages, about what went on in their colonies, in the East and West Indies? Ewald Vanvught gives an outline of the current changing view of the colonial period in the Netherlands with reference to four monuments.

6 min reading time

A Black Lion of Flanders

Roland Gunst – half Flemish, half Congolese – uses installations, performances, film and video to explore the search for his own identity.

Schermafbeelding 2020 02 12 om 10 46 57
0 min reading time

Poetics of Postcolonial Art. The Installations of Ana Torfs

Ana Torfs’s beautifully crafted, enchanting, experimental and postcolonial installations start out from established European conventions of art and reality, but then step outside and present us with a multimodal Gesamtkunstwerk, made with full use of anything that may serve to evoke what one cannot simply see – whether it is the meanings and insights produced by this echolalic art, the unresolved presence of the colonial past, the shackles of our language, or the legs of Rembrandt’s bird of paradise.

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Three Countries in One Kingdom. The Netherlands Antilles and the Paradox of Independence

We have known for a long time what happens when one colonises a country. But what happens when one wants to get rid of the ex-colony, but can't, and yet wishes to deal with it in a proper manner? Post-colonialism is a thing of the past, you are stuck with each other, a bit of Europe and a bit of the Caribbean. It is a unique process of decolonisation in the Dutch Antilles and Aruba, without violence, without loss of life, but with all the multicultural problems of the living. Since the Netherlands finally accepted in 1990 that the Antilles and Aruba are to remain with the Netherlands, Curaçao and Aruba are, thanks to Gorbachov, closer to Russia than ever before. The Caribbean connected to Europe, that is a fine global thought.

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Tales of the Invisible City

As the capital of the then Belgian Congo, Kinshasa occupies an important place in the history of Belgian architecture and urban planning. The development of the capital was an outstanding project of Belgian Modernity; but nowadays that modernist quality is only one of the many realities of Kinshasa. ‘Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City' deals with the complex reality of Kinshasa as a post-colonial Central African city. Anthropologist Filip de Boeck and photographer Marie-Françoise Plissart, together with architect/curator Koen van Synghel, put together an award-winning exhibition and book on this theme for the Belgian pavilion at the 2004 International Architecture Biennale in Venice. (Filip de Boeck & Marie-Françoise Plissart, Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City. Ghent, 2004)

For subscribers

The Netherlands Antilles and Surinam, Treasure-Chests of Dutch-Language Literature

Dutch-language literature in the former colonial territories of the Netherlands Antilles, a group of islands in the Caribbean, did not flourish fully until 300 years after the Dutch West India Company first established itself on the islands. In Surinam Dutch-language literature appears to be dying out more quickly than in the Netherlands Antilles. It seems likely that closer links will develop with the surrounding South American countries, though which language will then gain the upper hand is impossible to foresee at this time. All that can be said with certainty today is that the literature of both the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam has contributed a great deal to the enrichment of Dutch literature in general, and has come to form a permanent part of that literature.

For subscribers

From Africa to Africa: The Return of a Dead Traveller (An Extract from Frank Westerman's ‘El Negro and Me')

December 1983. In a Spanish museum of natural history, nineteen-year-old Frank Westerman finds himself standing face to face with a stuffed African – El Negro. Who is this man? Who stuffed his body? Twenty years later, the author follows El Negro's journey from Paris (1831), via Barcelona (1888) to the Pyrenees, where he was on display until 1997. Along the way he brings El Negro in his book with the same title to life as a commentator on his time: an unknown black man who – nailed to a pedestal – casts a disturbing perspective on European views of slavery, colonialism and racism.

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The Low Countries and Islam. Historical Relations and Present Debates

In the period between 1600 and 1945 parts of the Islamic world were subject to Dutch colonial power. From 1965 to the present day there has been for the first time an increasing Muslim presence in the Low Countries. Today when Netherlands and Flanders/Belgium seem to be secularised, suddenly, an Islamic identity is clamouring for attention. The national debate in both countries is paradoxically increasingly concerned with religion and culture.

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How the Congo Was Converted. Belgian Missionary Work in Central Africa

As early as 1651, a number of Flemish Capuchins were working as missionaries in the old Kingdom of Congo. In 1885, King Leopold II proclaimed the birth of the Congo Free State and was granted permission by the Belgian parliament to assume the Congolese crown. He was keen to ensure that, as far as possible, the missionaries in his territories should be exclusively Belgian. It was the beginning of massive involvement by the Belgian churches in Central Africa. The Church took care of education and medical care, and was also involved in other fields of social development and services. Today there are very few missionaries left in the Congo, but this means that the African Church now has the opportunity to stand on its own feet

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An Awkward Anniversary. Indonesia and the Netherlands: Decolonisation Fifty Years On

The debate about Dutch colonialism and the history of the decolonisation of Indonesia has proved to be far from merely academic. The deserter Poncke Princen and the date of 17 August 1945 were important symbols of conflict. On the one side there was an East Indies generation demanding a positive share in Dutch history through its call for ‘official' recognition. On the other, there were those who were openly critical of colonialism and felt such shame and guilt that ideally they would have liked to delete the whole episode from the nation's history.

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Fifty Years of Congolese-Belgian Relations

2010 sees the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Congo's independence, but the question is whether there will be much to celebrate. Leopold II meets Kabila.

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Women in the Dutch colonies

The central theme of Elsbeth Locher-Scholten's new book on Women and the Colonial State is how, especially and increasingly during the first half of the twentieth century, Dutch and Indonesian women, despite their shared aspirations, were kept apart by their diverging interests and by the colonial conditions of Dutch East Indies society. Her book offers a wealth of new data and archival materials, and many interesting illustrations and maps (Elsbeth Locher-Scholten, Women and the Colonial State. Essays on Gender and Modernity in the Netherlands Indies 1900-1942. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000).

For subscribers

Oeroeg and the Dutch-East Indian Trauma

The main problem with the film ‘Oeroeg', based on Hella S. Haase's autobiographical novel, is the rather simplistic approach to the so-called (post-)colonial Dutch-East Indian trauma

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Why Hella S. Haasse's Work Does not Need Introduction Abroad

Hella Haasse, who died in 2011, was a writer with three countries of origin: the Netherlands, Indonesia and France. These origins are represented in her work: fictional returns to colonial and postcolonial Indonesia, French settings, characters and historical figures of several (double) nationalities. The result? 136 translations of circa 28 individual titles into more than 20 languages.

For subscribers

Beekman's Indies

Review of E.M. Beekman's 'Troubled Pleasures. Dutch Colonial Literature from the East Indies 1600-1950' (Oxford, 1996).

For subscribers

Africa Is Very Far Away. Belgium and its Colonial Past in Congo

The fact that Belgium embarked on an ambitious colonial adventure in the last quarter of the nineteenth century can be attributed to the initiative of King Leopold II. Congo literally became ‘his' colony. For the production of rubber, Leopold imposed a harsh regime of forced labour on the Congolese. This provoked international protest, and in 1908 Leopold transferred control of Congo to the Belgian state. During the half century that Congo remained a colony, Belgian politics showed practically no interest in it. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, after more than 40 years of independence in Congo, it is apparent that Belgium has become completely estranged from Congo.

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Dutch Colonial Architecture and Town Planning. History, Preservation and Present Use

A survey of Dutch colonial architecture. It is of immense significance that, although the buildings concerned are of colonial origin, the local people and governments are prepared to regard them as being part and parcel of their own history and culture. And there is every reason for doing so. After all, if one compares eighteenth-century houses in Jakarta, Cape Town, Paramaribo and Willemstad, what strikes one is not just the similarities, but particularly the great differences. There are, of course, similarities with the Netherlands. In town-planning terms this means the presence of canals wherever possible; and invariably there is the dominance of a single direction. The theories of Simon Stevin certainly had an influence. The churches are inspired by the clear forms developed by Jacob van Campen and his contemporaries in the mid-seventeenth century. In urban houses it is the comparitively narrow, tall properties topped with cornices or the so-called ‘Dutch gables' which remind us of the Netherlands. But, above all, every historic building is in the first place a reflection of the country in which it stands.

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Grounds for Memory. Colonial Literature from the Former Dutch East Indies

From Georg Everhard Rumphius to Beb Vuyk and A. Alberts, we see that Dutch colonial literature is not a poor relation of mainstream Dutch letters. It developed continguously with Western literature, acquiring its own specific themes, mandating its own preferred style, developing its own distinctive echoes. The actuality of the life that fed this writing may be gone but the oeuvre it wrought has not dated and provides an understanding of an ever-receding past .

For subscribers
0 min reading time

The History of Dutch Language Policy in Colonial Indonesia 1600-1950

Review of Kees Groeneboer's 'Gateway to the West. The Dutch Language in Colonial Indonesia 1600-1950'. This book is not only a history of the subject, but also vividly demonstrates why for the foreseeable future Dutch will remain an indispensable language of scholarship in the field of Indonesian studies.

For subscribers

The Post-Colonial Scope for Afrikaans

Afrikaans gave the world the word “Apartheid”. After 1994 there were two silent voices in the debate on Afrikaans: first, the coloured voice; and second, the intellectual voice from the left. Only when Afrikaans has become fully diversified will it be able to play a forceful and possibly decisive role in forging a culture of tolerance in South Africa.

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