Artworks at Tropenmuseum illustrate the relationship between finance and colonialism
On 21 April, Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam launches the Someone is getting rich exhibition as a platform for 16 artists who help us to visualise the financial history of colonialism and its legacies. Brought together by guest curator Carrie Pilto, they express their critical vision through photography, videos, performances, sculptures, drawings, and tapestry. Sometimes sharply and confrontationally, other times indirectly or playfully.
A small selection of the artwork featured in this exciting and intriguing exhibition:
Claire Fontaine, Untitled (Someone is getting rich), 2012
Artist collective Claire Fontaine considers itself ‘a ready-made, feminist, neo-conceptual artist’. The campaign image above is drawn from a piece by this collective. A work of art that can be seen and appreciated in different contexts. In this exhibition, the neon letters refer to the wealth amassed in Europe for centuries at the expense of people and resources in other places around the world. Claire Fontaine was inspired by the graffiti they found in New Orleans during reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. This city was an important financial centre, partly due to the involvement of Dutch bankers.
Hew Locke, Confederate States of America Loan 2, 2018
Hew Locke (b. 1959) is a British artist based in London who grew up in Guyana, a former Dutch and British colony. In this series, he draws and paints on original bonds from the Confederate States of America, issued during the American Civil War. The Confederates were determined to keep their economy and culture afloat, even though it was based on slave labour. The first coupons, bottom right, were redeemed. However, before the next round, the Confederates lost the war. Locke: “These bonds are a physical link to the past, to which I have added context with images of historical and contemporary figures.” We see elements of American music culture, for instance, as well as less agreeable figures, such as the Ku Klux Klan. This is characteristic of Locke, who likes to take art viewers back and forth between conflicting emotions, associations, and thoughts.
Pascale Monnin, Double Debt (2023), from The Debt series
Monnin was born in Haiti, where she takes an active part in the artistic community. For some time now, she has been incorporating the theme of ‘debt’ into her work. In particular, the injustice of the young Haitian republic’s ‘double debt’ to its former colonial occupier, France, and the international financial sector. The heads created by Monnin symbolise the people who fought for Haiti’s independence. The work in this photo hangs from an antique scales, reminiscent of the scales used on slavery plantations. But scales also symbolise justice. “How do can you determine the weight of weigh injustice?” Monnin asks. “Is it possible to come to a fair settlement, taking into account everything that happened?”
Alain Bernardini, Adeline, Etablissement financier, Paris, 2010
At first glance, this photo, taken in a Parisian financial establishment institution, reinforces the racial stereotype of ‘the black cleaning woman’. But the woman’s self-confidence is intriguing. “It’s important to me,” the artist explains, “that Adeline, and other people who agree to be photographed by me, claim their place and reveal something of themselves without being reduced to their job or social class.” Hence Adeline’s unusual, subtly rebellious pose on the couch during working hours. In keeping with the angle of Someone is getting rich, the image plays on how much (or how little) the socio-economic situation has actually changed in the 400 years that have passed between colonial times and the present.