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Museum to return colonial objects

The Rijksmuseum, the iconic museum in the heart of Amsterdam, is set to return six objects currently in its collection to Sri Lanka this year. It marks the first time colonial objects from the Museum. The Rijksmuseum collection will be returned. The objects concerned are two swords, two rifles, a dagger, and the Cannon of Kandy decorated with precious stones.

Dagger (pihiya), before 1765
Dagger

WE APPRECIATE THE SECRETARY OF STATE’S DECISION AND REGARD THIS RESTITUTION AS A POSITIVE STEP IN COOPERATION WITH SRI LANKA. THE RELATIONSHIP AND EXCHANGES OF KNOWLEDGE BUILT-UP BETWEEN THE TWO NATIONS IN THE FIELDS OF RESEARCH AND COMMON HISTORY CONSTITUTE A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR THE FUTURE.

Taco Dibbits, General Director Rijksmuseum


Sabre, before 1765
Sabre

CANNON OF KANDY

One of the six objects to be returned is the famous and richly ornamented Cannon of Kandy. The cannon is made of bronze, silver, and gold, and inlaid with rubies. The barrel is decorated with the symbols of the King of Kandy: a sun, a half-moon and a Sinhalese lion. The cannon had a purely ceremonial function – it might have been used to fire the salute shots that welcomed important visitors to the king. Troops from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) looted the cannon during the siege and plunder of Kandy in 1765. It was later gifted to William V, Prince of Orange, for his cabinet of curiosities in The Hague. It has been part of the Rijksmuseum collection since 1800.


Cannon, before 1745, bronze, silver, gold, rubies, wood
Cannon of Kandy

INVESTIGATIONS

In 2017, the Rijksmuseum began its investigations into the provenance of colonial objects, working in collaboration with researchers in countries of origin. 2019 saw the start of Pilot Provenance Research on Objects of the Colonial Era (PPROCE). Initiated by the Ministry for Education, Culture, and Science (OCW), PPROCE is a two-year partnership project involving the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the National Museum of World Cultures (NMVW), and the Rijksmuseum. Its purpose was to conduct research into the establishment of a structure and methodology for provenance research in partnership with the countries of origin of the objects concerned. Following the submission by Sri Lanka of its claim for the restitution of the six objects, the decision to return them was made by the Dutch Secretary of State for Culture and Media, following the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on the Return of Cultural Objects from Colonial Cont Museum to return colonial objectsext.


Wall gun (jingal), c. 1724-60
Wall gun

The Rijksmuseum is attentive to questions surrounding the lawfulness and fairness of holdings that have come into its collections as colonial acquisitions. To address these questions, knowing the provenance of such objects is essential. The Rijksmuseum has therefore participated in PPROCE, and is now part of Pressing Matter. The museum has also contributed to the advisory commission for National Policy on Colonial Collections of the Council of Culture.


PRESSING MATTER (2021-2025)

Pressing Matter investigates the potentialities of ‘colonial objects’ to support societal reconciliation with the colonial past and its afterlives, and to deal with conflicting claims by different stakeholders for these objects within museums. The project will connect fundamental theories of valuation and property to postcolonial debates on heritage to these societal debates and aims to develop and test, first, new theoretical models of value and ownership and, second, new forms of return that address but move beyond current approaches to heritage restitution, while developing a theory of object potentialities grounded in the entangled, multipolar histories in which colonial objects were collected, kept and made meaningful.


Pressing Matter is a four-year international research programme about colonial heritage and its legacies, financed by the Dutch National Science Agenda (NWA) and coordinated from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Partners are the National Museum of World Cultures, Museum Bronbeek, Museum Vrolik, Rijksmuseum, the museums of Utrecht University and Groningen University, Foundation Academic Heritage and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Societal partners are Imagine IC, The Black Archives, HAPIN Papua Support Foundation, the Rijksacademie, Framer Framed and the Peace Palace Library, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and DutchCulture.


PPROCE (2019 - 2022)

The PPROCE study in which the Rijksmuseum took part aimed to develop a set of methods for investigating the provenance of collections with a colonial context. Made possible by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, this project was a cooperation between the Rijksmuseum, the National Museum of World Cultures)and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and ran from November 2019 until the beginning of 2022. PPROCE worked on a selection of cases from Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Some of these objects are held by the Rijksmuseum. Included were objects that came into Dutch hands as a result of colonial conflicts, were collected by colonial institutes or passed into the possession of the Dutch State through private collectors.


The Rijksmuseum is committed to an open and equal dialogue with the countries of origin. The project has worked closely with researchers from Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and the research is giving explicit consideration to the various cultural and political meanings objects have and had in former colonized and colonizing countries. The project has culminated in a report to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, providing conclusions and recommendations for researching the provenance of colonial era objects. In addition, 50 provenance reports on specific objects or groups of objects. The findings are also useful for other museums with comparable objects.

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