Flory Sinanduku performt SANTE PUBLIC, in plastic spuiten-pak in Kinshasa, Congo. Foto: Azgard Itambo
Press release:

New exhibition Plastic Crush at Amsterdam Tropenmuseum

Expo on the relationship between people and plastics opens on 5 November

The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam launches a new exhibition, Plastic Crush, on Saturday, 5 November. This is one of the first exhibitions to address the global history of plastic and its impact on our daily lives. For plastics leave an indelible impression.

Until now, the museum world usually approached plastic from the perspective of Western design. The Tropenmuseum, however, zooms in on the use of plastic in our daily lives from a worldwide perspective. This story is told through a diverse museum collection spanning more than a hundred years. With objects made from the forerunners of plastics, the first plastic products, and works by contemporary artists and designers. The exhibition shows how the history of plastic goes back further than we might expect and that concerns about environmental pollution from plastics also go back more than fifty years.

A soft spot for plastic

Plastic Crush opens with natural materials. Before the introduction of plastics, these were the only option, but they came at a cost—both to the wildlife and to people. Think, for instance, of combs, piano keys, or billiard balls made of ivory. The introduction of plastic changed things dramatically. Plastic, in its many forms, became the preferred material for everything we needed. Plastic became a mass product with global impact. The production of plastic bottles, for instance, democratised access to clean drinking water. But it also caused environmental degradation and global inequality.

Living together with plastic

When we think of plastic, we often think of PET bottles and shopping bags, all mass-produced. But over the decades, many of these products have been made locally and on a smaller scale. The colourful water jugs from Guatemala or the ‘leather’ shoes from Afghanistan shown in the exhibition, for instance. Moreover, at a local level, plastic means something different to everyone. In Greenland, plastic shopping bags are used differently than in other parts of the world. Small portions of seal meat are wrapped in plastic bags and stored in the freezer. So, these bags have a valued and durable second life. 

Through themes such as leisure, behind the front door, in the closet, body & mind, at work, and travelling, the Tropenmuseum highlights the global diversity of daily life with plastic.

From casual crush to long-term relationship?

What does our future with plastic look like? Will it be a long-term relationship or a passing crush? Will the plastic outcrop become a new resource or simply waste? One thing is for sure: plastic is here to stay. Four young, talented designers give their visions of the future, inspired by historical objects from the museum’s collection. The perspectives of designers, artists, and activists provide us with opportunities to live more sustainably with plastic.

Producing sustainable exhibitions

Plastic Crush is the Tropenmuseum’s pilot for producing sustainable exhibitions. In collaboration with Studio Harm Rensink and KODE21 design studio, the museum is making a deliberate attempt to put together an exhibition that leaves the least possible waste. For instance, by reusing, borrowing, or renting components for putting together the exhibition. The museum also means to create new and customised parts using sustainable, environmentally friendly, and recycled materials. The NMVW will then repurpose them for future exhibitions.

Plastic Crush, 5 November 2022 - 7 May 2023, Tropenmuseum
note to editors, not for publication:   
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