Colonial collections differ widely, including how they were obtained. Collaborative research into the history of objects can shed light on their origins.
In 2020, Colonial Collection and a Recognition of Injustice was published, the Council of Culture’s advice on how to proceed with objects from colonial contexts. The recommendations in this advice are based on the recognition of historical injustice and a willingness to redress this injustice to the fullest extent possible. These recommendations were adopted by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science in her Policy vision collections from a colonial context (in Dutch) from January 2021. In July 2022, this was followed up by a Letter to Parliament on the implementation of this policy vision.
Policy implementation runs along three lines:
- Cooperation with the countries of origin of cultural goods is an absolute prerequisite.
- Handling requests for the restitution of objects.
- Supporting provenance research.
Cooperation with countries of origin
Source countries see good cooperation and the sharing of everyone’s knowledge as the basis for careful handling of collections from colonial contexts. The Netherlands endorses this. This involves cooperation in the field of museums and collections, for example by exchanging researchers, students and museum professionals.
Handling a request for restitution
A source country can request the return of an object from a colonial context. If objects from the State Collection are involved, the State Secretary owns these objects on behalf of the State and decides on their return. For this purpose, the State Secretary applies to the independent Colonial Collections Committee. Many municipalities, provinces and universities also own collections acquired in a colonial context. These owners can seek advice from the Commission through the ministry of OCW on requests for restitution. For the Commission's regulations and published advisory reports, please see their website at: https://committee.kolonialecollecties.nl/.
Supporting provenance research
The responsibility for conducting provenance research lies with the institution managing the object. To promote commitment to provenance research in the Netherlands, a consortium of five organisations in the Netherlands with considerable expertise in the field of colonial collections has been set up.