Our colonial heritage


The Tropenmuseum was completely renovated in 2014 when it became part of the National Museums of World Cultures Foundation (NMVW). The conclusion of this collaboration is the ambitious project “Our Colonial Heritage”, which opened in June 2022. The entire Dutch colonial past, both in Indonesia and the Caribbean, is shown from multiple perspectives. Always focusing on the effects the colonial past has today. In addition to contemporary art, photography, and audio & video, interaction (both tactile and digital) is an important tool in the exhibition. Interactive games and immersive experiences were required, which not only inform visitors but really make them realise and experience the impact our colonial past had and still has today. Many of the visitors are classes with schoolchildren, so it was important that the interactives were suitable to operate or play with several people. A lot has been written about colonial history. But often only from a Western perspective. This exhibition is completely reversed, offering a entirely different narrative. As it is a sensitive topic, the idea was to leave visitors with a question and inspiration at the end of the exhibition. What are you going to change in your behaviour now that you have this knowledge? The challenge was to get visitors to draw their own conclusions, without feeling too strictly controlled by the museum.

The experience

The exhibition is structured like a wonderful journey through different worlds, always highlighting a different aspect of colonial Holland's legacy. Each "world" has its own atmosphere and experience to tell its part of the story. Five of those worlds contain interactives. The growth map is a large interactive table showing a world map with information about the history of colonialism. The biggest challenge was that we wanted to give a complete overview, but also convey a narrative. In order to do this, we let the visitor choose: Do you want to do the research yourself, or choose narrative mode? The map shows the story told chronologically with the help of animations and text, but at any time you can stop time and go on an investigation of a particular topic, occupied country, or uprising. Furthermore, there is a shopping game in which visitors learn about the colonial origin of our daily groceries in a playful way. Various touch screens and games throughout the museum allow visitors to absorb the information in their own way. Questions like "what is a home" make you think and realise what other people have gone through. In the section Make Your (own) Home, you peek inside other visitors' 'homes' and create your own version of what makes your house a home.

Exhibition with a message

At the end of the exhibition you enter the Epilogue. This circular arrangement of 7.5 in diameter, contains canvases stretched for projections. As soon as visitors enter, they see pictures with stories floating around. These stories are about people who fought against all the consequences of colonialism. The stories are divided 4 ways: Creating, Listening, Action, and Speaking Up. After a few seconds, these words appear in the image and the visitor is asked how they want to engage. There are large dots on the ground that visitors must stand on to make their choice. Visitors are also asked to confer and make their choice together to promote collaboration when making change. The majority choice will eventually open and start a short video featuring a role model who has done something that ties in with this theme. It ends with the question: how will you get involved? Visiting this museum isn't just a learning experience, it offers new insights that may make you see the world around you a little differently.

Would you like to know more about Our Colonial Heritage or can we help you with a similar project? Please contact Wouter van der Zouwe (wouter.vanderzouwe@yipp.nl).