Dossier Indië, Wereldmuseum Rotterdam


Dutch East Indies photographic archives

The World Museum asked actor and photographer Thom Hoffman to guest curate the Dossier Indië exhibition. Hoffman has been researching the history of the Dutch East Indies for the last 25 years and is working on documenting thousands of photographs and film fragments for the Dutch East Indies photographic archives BBNI.


‘I’m a huge lover of a range of different photographic genres, from classic masters such as Woodbury & Page to war photographers like Hugo Wilmar to Cartier Bresson and Cas Oorthuys. For me photography is a window on the world. Each photograph traces a relationship. And for me, every Indonesian photograph describes the relationship between the Dutch and Indonesian people, with whom we share an emotional past.’

Changing perceptions on Indonesia

Photographs and film have played a key role in the colonial process and in the way Indonesia is perceived. What and who was photographed – almost exclusively by European photographers and from a European perspective – was a major contributor in shaping the Dutch view on its colonial past.

The photographers

Indonesian photographers were businessmen first and foremost. They took portrait photographs, sold albums of landscapes and local people and operated within the colonial framework. The Dutch colonials, Javanese aristocracy and Chinese elite became buyers of the new product. The photographs worked to reinforce the ideas justifying colonial rule.

Initially documentary news photography did not exist. On the contrary: there were strict rules governing press photography. This changed over time and down the years a more accurate picture of societal relations gradually emerged.

Atelier Kurdjian
Kurdjian Studio M.M. (Thilly) Weissenborn retouching a photograph in the Kurdjian Studio in Surabaya, around 1915 |KITLV 183050

No end

Dossier Indië looks beyond 1949, when the Netherlands recognised Indonesia’s independence. The World Museum commissioned the Rotterdam-based photographer with Indonesian roots Stacii Samidin to travel to Indonesia for the photographic series Merdeka! Merdeka is Samidin’s personal reflection on the colonial heritage he encountered in present-day Indonesia and the Netherlands.

Unique collaboration

Never before have so many institutions made their photo collections available, which makes this exhibition at the Wereldmuseum about colonial history unique. With the many photographs, films and personal stories that have been found in archives in recent years, Dossier Indië presents a more realistic picture of the last hundred years of the colony. An image that evokes mixed feelings and sentiments.


Those working together on the Dossier Indië exhibition include the Netherlands Institute for Image and Sound, the EYE film museum, the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies NIOD, the Royal Institute for language, country and cultural anthropology KITLV, Libertum, the Literature Museum, the Mariners’ Museum, Rotterdam Maritime Museum, Museon, Bronbeek Museum, Museum Volkenkunde (National Museum of Ethnology), National Archives, the Dutch institute for Military History NIMH, the Rijksmuseum, the Railways Museum, Tropenmuseum, the Leiden University Library and various private collections.


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