Rijksmuseum exhibit Indonesia's independence contains looted art
The Rijksmuseum exhibit Revolusi! Indonesia Independent that opens on Friday contains multiple pieces looted from Indonesians during the War of Independence, the National Archives confirmed to NU.nl. During the war, the Netherlands took thousands of photos, bracelets, and other personal belongings from Indonesians and shipped them to the National Archives. Some of these pieces are featured in the Rijksmuseum exhibit on Indonesia's independence.
The National Archives has three to four thousand objects like photo albums, cartoons, and pamphlets and flags from the independence movement in its NEFIS archive. It lent 130 objects to the Rijksmuseum for its exhibit. At least part of these items was seized by Indonesians by the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS) while it spied on the Indonesian population during the Indonesian war of independence (1945 to 1949).
In 2021, the Netherlands promised to return looted cultural goods from former colonial areas if a country so requests. The Indonesian objects are not currently included in the "cultural goods" that qualify for return, the National Archives confirmed to the newspaper.
"From a historical point of view, this is certainly loaded material," history curator Harm Stevens said to NU.nl on behalf of the Rijksmuseum. "That intelligence work is a historic part of the Indonesian revolution." The museum would like to see the Netherlands and Indonesia view the NEFIS archive together and return what was taken. But the Rijksmuseum has no control over the return of objects to Indonesia, the museum said.
The National Archives agreed that the material loaned to the Rijksmuseum is emotionally loaded. "There are indeed pieces that were confiscated during the war of independence of which you can now wonder whether that was done lawfully," a spokesperson for the NEFIS archive said to the newspaper. The National Archive wants the Minister of Education, Culture, and Science to decide on a possible return to the rightful owners if these can be found.