Impact case: Wintertuin Curaçao

News overview

History belongs to everyone

The Wintertuin Curaçao foundation uses the imaginative power of art to connect the people of the island. The history of Curaçao is often told through tales of decolonisation and the territory’s love-hate relationship with the Netherlands. But does this reflect the island’s true identity? Through the interactive exhibition The History of Curaçao in 100 Objects, the foundation tells everyday stories about the island’s past compiled for and by the local community.

The island’s identity

In 2020, discussions about Curaçao’s identity began to gain traction. Though Curaçao had gained independence a decade before, the coronavirus outbreak effectively stamped out any sense of anniversary celebration. Problems linked to poverty, inequality, unemployment, segregation and social isolation were on the rise, leading to fragmentation. This was reflected in the messages of the many different political parties participating in the elections. The crucial question on the island: Where do we go from here?

The island’s story

Searching for the stories that made up Curaçao’s identity, the foundation discovered that most concerned weighty subjects like the island’s colonial past and its relationship with the Netherlands. And they were generally written by those in positions of power and rarely told by everyday people. Not surprisingly, the island’s inhabitants were unaccustomed to participating in art projects. They would visit an exhibition, look around and head off home. Now, for the first time, they have an opportunity to determine for themselves how the past has shaped Curaçao’s identity.

“It’s wonderful to see this history taking shape in the hands of the people. It’s not about heroes but about regular people.” – Steve Elbers, VriendenLoterij Fonds programme manager

Compiling cultural heritage

For the exhibition, Wintertuin Curaçao joined forces with the local organisation National Archaeological-Anthropological Memory Management, which helps to preserve and identify Curaçao’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. In a series of six themed workshops, Wintertuin Curaçao invite people to bring in objects – anything from a doll given to a woman who could not have children to a figure made by someone’s father. Ultimately, it’s the people themselves who determine which objects should be used to reflect history and which should be preserved. These stories constitute the basis of the exhibition.

“The workshops often give rise to great conversations, even if people don’t always agree. We see that the themes genuinely touch people, because the sessions often go on longer than planned.” – Joeri Oltheten, director, Wintertuin Curaçao

Shattering stereotypes

Imagination plays a major role in the exhibition. The emotions behind the stories are captured in photos and recordings. The initiators secured the Curaçao Museum for the exhibition. While locals used to see it as an elite venue, the exhibition made it accessible to the community. Wintertuin Curaçao also took the show to Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, where it gave visitors a new view on the shared history of the Netherlands and Curaçao.

“I’ve seen how the outside world sometimes views Curaçaoans as criminals, impoverished or stupid. But the people here have developed so much. We’re an extremely talented island. We’ve got so many professional athletes and innovative thinkers, but that side of the story is rarely highlighted. I'd like to see a more positive image for this island. I'd like for kids to grow up really proud of their island.” – Giovanni, art project participant

Evolving with DOEN’s help

The History of Curaçao in 100 Objects is an exceptionally inclusive project. It reaches people who wouldn’t normally participate in creative projects and gives them an opportunity to actively help shape history. It shows how art and culture can contribute to an inclusive society and change our perceptions of the present or the past forever. It therefore connects seamlessly to the aims of the VriendenLoterij’s Celebrating the Art of Change programme.

The future is online

Wintertuin Curaçao shows that there are alternative ways of staging an exhibition and, above all, of developing one. In the future, its initiators hope to apply the same approach elsewhere, at a national or city level. Wintertuin Curaçao could play a supervisory role, overseeing the development process. The organisers also aim to make the exhibition even more accessible by putting the entire art project online. Finally, they want to involve new generations in the project by producing a podcast in which children talk about how they see the collection. This would complete the circle by symbolically linking Curaçao’s history to its future.

This profile was written in cooperation with Avance Impact.