It’s still early, outside it’s completely dark and a cold wind blows over the country. Dad is having a conversation with ‘important men’, through a crack of the door I hear apart of the conversation. He’s talking about the belief, dangerous Catholics and danger that’s coming, first I can’t place the conversation and then, suddenly my mom discovers me and pulls me away from the door. She snaps at me that I’d better make myself useful by helping her with packing. That’s how I leave the Peperstraat that night, to swap my beautiful life in ‘s-Hertogenbosch for a new existence in the neighbourhood of the Rotterdam harbours.

In the Rotterdam harbour the family Van Loon sets up their business and Willem van Loon starts a company in selling herring and bloater. After a while he becomes a respected salesman that starts combining his selling more and more with political activities. Business wise the family is settled: Willem van Loon in 1602 becomes one of the founders of the United East-Indian Company. Although the family lives in Rotterdam, a lot is invested in the Amsterdam cabinet of the VOC. That’s why his son, Hans van Loon, in 1604 heads to Amsterdam, where he buys a house and later becomes to be the director of the VOC. Success makes fertile: Hans gets five children which he takes good care of. His kids all where married to very influential families, like a lawyer, the daughter of a mayor and old Dutch nobility, which only secured the position of the family.

A few generations later Hendrik van Loon marries a very rich woman; Louise Borski. Because of her the family could live a wealthy life, owning a few houses. They buy a house for their son, Willem Hendrik and his wife, in 1884 at the Keizersgracht 672, what was meant as a generous wedding gift. The house is very big and not only meant for family live, but also for welcoming business connections in. From generation to generation the house has been used like this until Maurits van Loon starts living there.

Museum Van Loon, Keizersgracht 672, Amsterdam

Maurits was raised in Laren, but his connection with his family in Amsterdam is strong because of the many visits to his parents. As a memoriam to his grandparents he opens the house at the Keizergracht in 1973 for the public and lives on the upper floors till 2006. And even now the house can be visited and the lifestyle of the family Van Loon in the canal house in the middle of Amsterdam can be seen.

Rooms full of old portraits, luxurious wallpapers and carpets, furniture and an impressive collection of silver and porcelain fill the rooms of the house. Between the old art pieces now and then there’s a very prominent modern art piece. In the start of October the museum opened an exposition ‘Suspended Histories’, in which the attention goes towards the colonial history of the family and the connection they had to the VOC and Asia. It was consciously decided to have the exhibition this year, because the ring of canals exists 400 years this year and that 150 years ago slavery was discarded.

It’s a pity that there’s not a lot of historical material left, that’s why Philipa van Loon took the initiative of invite Thomas Berghuis, curator of the Guggenheim museum in New York put this exhibition together. Together they invited well known artists from the parts with who the VOC was trading goods back then to make a new work for the museum, in which they had to give a reflection up on the VOC and the family van Loon history.

Yee I-Lann, Tabled (2013), Installation of 50 ceramic plates

Yee I-Lann is referring to the table as a meeting place of the ‘Orang Besar’, an old term for important persons of the Malaysian Isle. They had the power over the population. Yee I-Lann asked especially for the dining room for her work in the Museum Van Loon, because meetings and gatherings between the ‘Orang Besar’ from the political and economical world now a days take place there. The table refers to power, economics, and diplomacy to I-Lann. On the table she placed blue and white coloured plates in the style of old Dutch-, British- and Chinese ceramics that she gave a new look. 

Mella Jaarsma, A blinkered View – High Tea Low Tea (2013), Video installation, tea kettles and aprons

The tea culture has a very rich history in different cultures and traditions and next to that it also has an economical context. This context Mella Jaarsma explains with her work. Tea was for the first time introduced in the 17th century in Europe. Dutch traders took it from Japan to Europe. At the end of this area the demand for tea was that big in the Netherlands that the VOC had to ship bigger loads to the Netherlands, also from the harbour of Batavia. With ‘A blinkered View – High Tea Low Tea’ Jaarsma is referring to the worldwide tea culture. Still the best tea is produced in Indonesia, but not available for their inhabitants. The tea is exported straight away to the Netherlands and can be found under the name ‘Pickwick’ in almost every Dutch supermarket. The tea pots that are shown in Jaarsma’s installation where painted by a local artist in Malabar, a area where Jaarsma’s own ancestors used to live. He painted exotic Indonesian landscapes on the pots that hide the real circumstances of the workers on tea fields during the colonial time.

Lisa Reihana, In Persuit of Venus (2012), Double screen video installation

Lisa Reihana presents the work, ‘In Pursuit of Venus’, a double screened video that’s shown specifically in the Drakensteyn Kamer of the museum. Reihana chose this room specifically because she could make a nice connection between the substance of her work and the colonial look of the pictorial wallpaper. Her work is a critical reflection on the known French theatre wallpaper ‘La sauvages de la mer Pacifique’ that was made in the early 19th century by Joseph Dufour. On this wallpaper the journeys of Europeans to the Pacific Ocean are depicted. In the video of Reihana the cultural conflicts between the European explorers and the native population are shown.

Fiona Tan, Nele/Nellie (2013), HD video installation

Fiona Tan especially made a video-installation for ‘Suspended Histories’ that she recorded in the same room that her work is shown in. The movie gives the room of the Museum van Loon an extra dimension; it gives you a different view on reality. She based her work on the forgotten out of wedlock daughter of Rembrandt van Rijn, Cornelia, who moved to Batavia (Jakarta) after her father deceased. Because there isn’t much known about the life of Cornelia, Fiona Tan could use her fantasy freely and make an own life story. The result was a beautiful movie. 

Titarubi, Golden Nutmeg (2013), Dress sewn together from more than 20,000 gold-plated nutmegs

Tiarubi made a monumental sculpture of metal and nutmeg coated in gold in the shape of a cloak, as reflection on the grim history of trade and the production of the very demanded spice. Nutmeg is a spice that is from the Banda isles, that is a part of the Indonesian province Maluku. Nutmeg was a very valuable spice In Europe in the 16th and 17th century; it was even more worth then gold. It was the reason for a war between England and the Netherlands, in which the VOC tried to get a monopoly on trading in the Banda’s. This war ended in mass murders on the English side and on the Banda population in 1621. The inhabitants that survived the horrific war, where enslaved. The cloak that Titarubi made for the Museum Van Loon, explains this artificial, bloody, embarrassing war.

Arahmaiani, Dutch Wife (2013), Digital photo prints
Caption: With ‘Dutch Wife, Arahmaiani positioned herself as a suppressed wife and pulls the line between colonial slavery and the modern slavery of factory workers and nannies.

Donna Ong, Gift #23: A memory of a forest beyond the edge of the world & Gift #67: A dream of home & Gift #142: An unfamiliar birdsong in a strange and distant land (2013), Paper, Chinese jewellery box, acrylic and light-box
Caption: Donna Ong is referring to the colonial origins of a lot of plants in the museum garden with her boxes with collages of ‘exotic’ flora and fauna.

Simryn Gill, Blue (2013), 210 paintings on paper
Caption: Simryn Gill made works with pigments from flowers of a plant that used to grow in Sydney from a seed from Malaysia.

Tiong Ang, Achtste Hoofdstuk/Eighth Chapter (2013), Installation, various media and dimensions, and video
Caption: Tiong Ang made an installation with images that are damaged by the ageing ink of the VOC archives, as a setting for a film about Multatuli.

Catalogus ‘Suspended Histories’, Museum van Loon, 2013