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Museum to rename any artworks with offensive titles

References to 'negros', 'Indians' and 'dwarves' are all going

Christopher Hooton
Monday 14 December 2015 13:59 GMT
If it hung in the Rijksmuseum, Paul Cezanne's 'The Negro Scipio' (1866) might have been changed under the initiative
If it hung in the Rijksmuseum, Paul Cezanne's 'The Negro Scipio' (1866) might have been changed under the initiative

In a controversial move, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is removing any terms that might be considered offensive from the digitised titles and descriptions of the 220,000 artworks it has collected.

Words like ‘negro’, ‘Indian’ and ‘dwarf’ are all going, according to ArtsBeat, replaced with less triggering terms.

The 1900 painting ‘Young Negro-Girl’ for instance, will now be called ‘Young Girl Holding a Fan’.

“The point is not to use names given by whites to others,” said Martine Gosselink, head of the history department at the Rijksmuseum.

For example, she said, “We Dutch are called kaas kops, or cheeseheads, sometimes, and we wouldn’t like it if we went to a museum in another country and saw descriptions of images of us as ‘kaas kop woman with kaas kop child,’ and that’s exactly the same as what’s happening here.”

'Young Negro-Girl' by Simon Maris (1900), now called 'Young Girl Holding a Fan'

While saving the outrage of some visitors, the museum will also surely be inviting accusations of censorship, with the move apparently throwing aside context and what the use of the words might say about the time and the painting itself (whether it was the painter or someone else who named it).

The initiative is called ‘Adjustment of Colonial Terminology', and involves all of the Rijksmuseum’s twelve curators.

“Our main concern is to get rid of the insulting descriptions online,” Gosselink said.

“Until now we’ve found 132 descriptions with the word ‘negro’ in them, and it’s quite easy to change that. But there are other words like Hottentot — it’s a name given by Dutch people to the Khoi people in South Africa, and a Dutch word that means ‘stutterer.’ It’s very insulting, and it’s really important to change that as soon as possible.’’

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