Meet the slave trader, seal hunter, nanny and insurgent. In a new permanent exhibition, the National Museum of Denmark focuses on Danish colonialism through the voices of those whose lives were formed by it. Voices from the Colonies opens on October 13th, 2017.
The National Museum presents a new permanent exhibition on Danish colonial history in the West Indies, India, West Africa and Greenland. The exhibition is not about trade, commodities and resources, but about people. We meet the West Indian rebel Queen Mary, the Gold Coast slave trader Ludvig Rømer, the Greenlandic prophet Habakuk, the enslaved West Indian Franciscus, and many more. People who embody dramatic stories of loss, divided families, fear and violence. But also hope, broken chains and the power of uprising.
“Our goal has been to make an exhibition that brings new perspectives and edge to Denmark’s colonial history. The colonial period has often been reduced to issues of power, influence and the pursuit of spices and slaves. This exhibition gives a voice to the people of the colonies. From the top to the bottom. From snow-clad Greenland, to the warm Indian coast of Tranquebar,” says Rane Willerslev, director of the National Museum of Denmark.
The Abused West Indian House Slave and the Heroic Nanny
One of the people we meet in the exhibition is the enslaved woman Anna Catherina, who after being raped and beaten by her planation owner took him to court. We also meet five-year-old Nanna, who during the 1878 uprising on St Croix was hidden under the bed of her nanny when the rebels attacked her parents’ plantation. We also gain insight into the story of the insurgent Queen Mary, who is heralded as a heroine today.
The Enslaved West African Boy and the Greenlandic Seal Hunter
The 34 different lives we encounter in the exhibition include seven-year-old Oly, the boy taken prisoner in his village in the Congo by slave raiders. On the island of St Thomas he was bought by a missionary, who describes a young boy who could not stop crying. We also meet the Greenlandic seal hunter Pooq, who sailed in the kayak parade on Frederiksholm Canal and was later painted on the panels of the Prince’s Palace – in the very hall that became the National Museum and is now part of the exhibition Voices from the Colonies.
New, Unique Exhibits
Their stories are accompanied by unique exhibits from the National Museum’s own collections, most of which have never been seen by the public before. These include a whip used in the West Indies to force the enslaved to labour for the profits of colonialists, and the church bell with Greenlandic inscriptions once used to promote Christianity in an otherwise shamanist Greenland. There is also a party dress with a checked headscarf worn by one of the West Indian nannies that took care of the children of Danes in the 1800s, and the drum the African chieftain Adum used in the sacrifice of his rival’s children, which was brought with him to Copenhagen as evidence in his trial.
“The everyday items on display are exceptional, and have never been exhibited before. Museums worldwide have traditionally shown the ‘purely’ African or Native American culture they have their origins in. In this exhibition we are more interested in what happens when cultures meet and merge in new ways. Like the musical instruments and calabash bowls with African ornamentation in a European style that bear testimony to a rich mix of cultures. But even more important is that they show that the people all too often reduced to commodities or a source of labour were human beings – individuals with creative talents, traditions and hopes for the future,” says Mille Gabriel, senior researcher, curator and part of the team behind the new exhibition.
When and Where:
The exhibition Voices from the Colonies opens on October 13th 2017 on the 1st floor of the National Museum.
For further information please contact:
Karen Torp-Pedersen on + 45 41 20 60 96 or at firstname.lastname@example.org