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Rijksmuseum Presents Photographs from Surinam and Curacao
Photographer unknown. A Dutch family with a maid, Moengo, 1930.

AMSTERDAM.- Around 80 photographs from Surinam and Curaçao dating from 1846 to 1973 are on display at the Rijksmuseum. The photographs, some of which are Rijksmuseum acquisitions and some of which are on loan from private collectors and other contributors, tell the story of various chapters from the history of ‘the West’. The existence of several of the photographs taken in 19th century Surinam was previously unknown. The highlight of the exhibition, is without a doubt, the earliest known photograph from Surinam, of a young married couple in 1846.

This photo, a so-called daguerreotype, depicts Maria Louisa de Hart, the daughter of a female slave whose freedom had been purchased, and the Jewish plantation owner Mozes-Meijer de Hart. Her husband was Johannes Ellis, the son of Abraham de Veer, who was a Dutchman and the governor of Elmina in what is now Ghana, and the Ghanaian Fanny Ellis. Their son, Abraham George Ellis (1846-1916) was the first and only Surinamese minister to serve in a Dutch cabinet (1902-1905, Minister of the Navy). Until now, it was not known that any pre-1860 photographs from Surinam existed.

The publicity surrounding the discovery of this photograph prompted several private parties to contact the museum - they also had very old photos of their forefathers. An ‘ambrotype’ taken in 1857 of Martha-Elisabeth de Wees, a former slave, is now also included in the exhibition. Two years before the photograph was taken, she was freed for ‘good behaviour’ and in observance of the ‘King’s birthday’ One remarkable discovery was a signed ambrotype from 1859. The photo was signed by S. del Casthilho, one of the first professional photographers who set up a studio in Paramaribo, only 20 years after photography was invented.

Also on display are various photographs from 1911 to 1930, a time when the plantation economy was declining and bauxite mining was becoming an increasingly important industry, including photographs from the bauxite mining town Moengo. There is also a panorama of Paramaribo by Augusta Curiel (1873-1937), a famous pre-WWII photographer from Surinam. Additionally, there are several photographs of ‘Black Tuesday’ (Zwarte Dinsdag). On this day – 7 February 1933 - the activist against colonialism Anton de Kom was imprisoned in Paramaribo, unleashing a protest by his supporters to demand his release.

Finally, the museum is displaying photographs taken by Willem Diepraam (1944) between 1973 and 1977, including of the 1973 election victory of Henck Arron, who would go on to become the first prime minister of independent Surinam.

The exhibition also features 20 photographs taken in Curaçao during WWII, including of Princess Juliana’s visit to the island in 1944 and of Willemstad during the 1930s.

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