Permanent exhibition

exhibition What's the Story

Speed date with the Tropenmuseum? In the What's the Story? expo you’ll get to know more about the colonial history of the museum, the world-famous collection and the architecture of the building.

The Tropenmuseum is on the move and changing, just like society. In the past it mainly had to propagate the colonial glory of the Netherlands. Nowadays the museum presents the historical collection from different perspectives, inviting reflection and social discussion.

Cross section of the collection

This exhibition shows you in a very approachable way the history of how the museum originated and developed. With the help of several objects, a model of the building and questions and answers, we relate the colonial origins of the Tropenmuseum and their meaning today.

150 years of museum history

We briefly take you through almost 150 years of museum history. A history that reflects the changing vision of the museum, the collection and the exhibitions in relation to the colonial past and today’s world.

Image of the scale model of the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

This is a model of the Tropenmuseum and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). Both originate from the Colonial Institute founded some 100 years ago. Small projections in the model relate the history of the institute and the colonial symbolism of the numerous art works in the building.

Traditional costume or fashion?

Museums still often present clothing as traditional costume or folk costume, which sounds established, unchanging. Conversely, ‘western’ clothing is seen as changing quickly and sensitive to trends, i.e. fashion. The Tropenmuseum now looks at its world-famous textile collection with different eyes. It’s a provoking question: when is something fashion?

Fashion is an accessible way of showing how globalization works, how cultures influence each other and how cultural appropriation works. The outfit of the popular Amsterdam label Daily Paper is, for example, clearly inspired by global streetwear and Arab shapes and texts.

Collecting worldwide

A dancer’s jewellery from Surinam, a netsuke from Japan, a Koran from Indonesia. The Tropenmuseum collects objects from all kinds of cultures from around the whole world. Why? Because such a collection introduces us to the versatility of mankind as a whole. Religion, daily life, crafts and art are important subjects.  

Questions and answers in the expo

Objects in the museum have been acquired in various ways; they have been bought, donated and sometimes stolen. That happened in the context of colonial oppression, trade, military actions, scientific projects and missionary work. 

A large part of the collection dates from the colonial period. The Tropenmuseum considers objects that were not relinquished voluntarily or that have more cultural value in the country of origin to be eligible for restitution. 

Was everything you see here stolen?

The balance of power between Europeans and non-Europeans was often extremely unequal, particularly in the colonies in the past. That does not, however, mean that all trade was unfair. From the moment museums began to collect, tourist art and trade in objects specially produced for the European market became apparent. It is therefore necessary to research case by case how a transaction occurred before making a judgement. 

Was the trade fair?

We occasionally sell items from the collection and strictly adhere to national and international policy in this field when we do so. This policy has been drawn up in cooperation with the Dutch government and the museum sector so that disposal of objects from the collection is an exception and done correctly. The proceeds must always be to the benefit of the collection.

Do you sometimes sell items from the collection?