Heritage and slavery past expert Valika Smeulders. Photo by Andy Kleinmoedig.
AMSTERDAM–Curaçao-born Valika Smeulders (1969) is the new director of the History Department of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam per July 1. This is a remarkable achievement because this is the first time a person of Dutch Caribbean descent has been appointed a top position at this prestigious museum.
Smeulders already works part-time at the Rijksmuseum. As a curator she has been working on a unique exhibition about the Dutch slavery past and the role of the Netherlands in its colonies of that time.
The exhibition, which was to start in September this year but was postponed due to the corona crisis until February 12, 2021, shows slavery in the Dutch colonial period, from the 17th to the 19th century, in the countries and areas where the Netherlands was active in the slave trade and slavery, including the Dutch Caribbean islands, Suriname and Brazil.
“I am moved by how countries deal with their history, what they show of this in their museums, which stories are told and which are not, and why. Important for me is the social relevance of history as stated in the Ghana word Sankofa, which means knowledge of the past helps us to navigate towards the future,” said Smeulders in a Rijksmuseum press release.
“With Valika’s scientific background and her knowledge of museum presentations, I am looking forward to give content together with her and the team to the role of the Rijksmuseum as national museum of art and history,” said Rijksmuseum Director Taco Dibbits.
Smeulders is also a postdoc at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies KITLV as part of the research project Traveling Caribbean Heritage. She studied Languages and Cultures of Latin America at Leiden University and Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico. She obtained her doctorate at Erasmus University Rotterdam with a thesis on the presentation of the slavery past in Suriname, Curaçao, Ghana and South Africa.
With her enterprise, Pasado Presente, she facilitates inclusive heritage presentations and organises historical tours in The Hague with themes such as the slavery past, black pioneers and World War II heroes of Caribbean descent.
Smeulders is a member of the Memory of the World Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO and a member of the Colonial Collections Committee of the Netherlands Council for Culture.
Smeulders is on the board of the Caribbean Literature Work Group and the Kingdom Relations Committee. For the latter committee, she organised a successful theatre production late 2017 about the shared history within the Kingdom, titled “One Happy Kingdom”, which featured inspiring stories from St. Maarten and The Hague, music, song and dance.
Smeulders received a Solo di Korsou award from the Prime Minister of Curaçao in 2013 for her research and work dedicated to the Curaçao community in the Netherlands. She received the Black Achievement Award in the category Education and Science in 2019.
At the Rijksmuseum, Smeulders will succeed Martine Gosselink who became the new director of the Mauritshuis, the famous museum in The Hague, earlier this year. The Rijksmuseum will reopen on June 1 after having to close its doors temporarily mid-March due to the coronavirus.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/smeulders-to-head-history-department-rijksmuseum