Current research

The Pilot Project Provenance Research on Objects of the Colonial Era (PPROCE) is a project of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Museum of World Cultures and NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies that aims to develop a methodology for research on the provenance of collections with a colonial context. This project will determine and describe the steps required for doing provenance research on colonial collections. A number of selected cases from Indonesia and Sri Lanka will be researched in this pilot. The project runs from November 2019 to end-2021 and has been made possible by funding from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

The aim of the project is to do joint scientific research on a number of objects from Indonesia and Sri Lanka in order to identify the specific processes necessary for carrying out provenance research on colonial collections. Objects selected as cases for the research were items which:

  • had come into Dutch hands as a result of colonial conflicts
  • had been collected by colonial institutes
  • came into Dutch hands through private collectors and are now the property of the Dutch State
  • were selected in consultation with the Museum Nasional Indonesia in Jakarta
  • were selected following meetings with various universities and museums in Sri Lanka

The results of the research will be written up in a report for the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, with conclusions and recommendations for research on the provenance of objects from the colonial era. These findings will also be useful for other museums with relevant objects. The report will also include a few dozen provenance reports on specific objects or groups of objects.

Background to this research

In the context of a wider international discussion, Dutch museums are becoming increasingly aware of the question whether it is fair and just to manage objects that have come into their collections as colonial acquisitions. In answering this question, it is of crucial importance to know the provenance of such objects. Policy development is therefore inextricably linked to scientific research on provenance. Dutch museums consider research on the origins of museum collections to be a core task. However, research on colonial collections is complex in a number of specific ways. These include the partly inherited colonial principles on the basis of which these collections were acquired and categorised in the countries concerned, the one-sided nature of the source material available as a result, and the different cultural and political meanings of objects in countries that were formerly colonisers or colonised. In consequence, there is a strong desire in the Netherlands, based on a sense of social responsibility, to do research on the problems facing – and the requirements for – the further development of provenance research on colonial collections.

Participants

The research is conducted and supervised by historians with knowledge of colonial history, art historians and provenance researchers. The researchers are:

  • Prof. Marieke Bloembergen, professor in Archival and Postcolonial Studies at Leiden University, and senior researcher, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV).
  • Jona Mooren, researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
  • Mirjam Shatanawi, researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
  • Dr Klaas Stutje, researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Project leaders are Ellen Grabowsky (NIOD) and Jona Mooren, (NIOD). Project adviser is Prof. Marieke Bloembergen (Leiden University/KITLV).

Steering group

  • Dr Francine Brinkgreve, curator Insular Southeast Asia, National Museum of World Cultures
  • Dr Menno Fitski, head of Asian art, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
  • Ellen Grabowsky, team manager at Centre of Expertise for Restitution, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
  • Dr Jan de Hond, curator of History, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
  • Dr Henrietta Lidchi, chief curator, National Museum of World Cultures
  • Prof. Frank van Vree, director of NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Collection of F.W. Stammeshaus, exhibited at his home in Seulimeum (Aceh), 1912. The collection is now housed at the Tropenmuseum, the museum of world cultures in Amsterdam. Photo from the Stammeshaus Archive, with thanks to John Klein Nagelvoort.