Dutch Wife

Still from film, 01:22, In a search of the “Dutch wife”, Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province, Indonesia, 2017.

Dutch Wife brings together archival research at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden and field research carried out in Indonesia (Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province). Through the performativity of repatriation and remaking, the research process investigated the notion of “return” as a pattern for remedying colonial objects.

The narrative and value of communities of objects may change in quality and disappear during their transplantation between different cultures and contexts. In other words, things change as a result of being displaced. The “Dutch Wife”, an adaptation of the bolster cushion into a bamboo mesh the size of a human body used for keeping people’s beds cool in tropical climes, originated in the Dutch colonial context in Indonesia but is largely unknown in the Netherlands. The name “Dutch Wife” refers to the Indonesian women who were the wives of Dutch traders. However the actual name was given by sarcastic English traders. As such, the “Dutch Wife” expresses a specific culture of colonialism in which ethnography and crafts from the Netherlands and Indonesia merged. The many-layered story attached to this object, one of colonial history, gender politics and craft, changes when the object’s environment changes.

Still from film, 02:01, The process of making Dutch Wife, Bamboo weaving technique, Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province, Indonesia, 2017.

Still from film, 02:42, The Journey of the “Dutch wife”, Kabupaten Sumedang, West Java Province, Indonesia, 2017.

Still from film, 03:26, Arrivals of “Dutch wife”, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, The Netherlands, 2017.

I travelled to Indonesia and traced the object back to its historical roots as a sort of repatriation, in order to symbolically reverse the process of colonisation and emancipate the object. The “Dutch Wife” belongs to a certain period, and to a specific relationship between the two cultures that is set in history. By deconstructing and applying the original production principles to a series of blankets, which are more familiar to the contemporary Netherlands, it allows the object to break out of its original context and re-appropriates it to a new one in order to be able to embrace the people and to liberate the object. The contemporary version is no longer about Dutch ideas of Indonesia, instead it tells a story about the present.

Dutch wife Installation view When Things Are Beings, Proposals for the Museum Collection, Curated by Amanda Pinatih and Britte Sloothaak, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. 2022-2023 Photo credit: Konstantin Guz.

Dutch Wife has been nominated for the Gijs Bakker Prijs. The project was supported by the TextielMuseum, Tilburg, NL.