On February 8th the exhibition Ons Land (Our Country) opened at the Sophia Museum in The Hague. This exhibition is about Dutch colonial history in the East and how it continues to have an impact to this day. Eyewitnesses of that history and their descendants tell their stories. The Keasberry’s are one of the eight families who are at the heart of the exhibition put together by the Indisch Herinneringscentrum – the foundation Indies Remembrance Center keeps the memory alive of the events before, during and after the Second World War in the Dutch East Indies and their significance today.
A little background
What started out for me as following my grandmother’s footsteps by documenting and publishing secret family recipes nearly 15 years ago, turned into a higher mission: to preserve our family legacy by sharing our story and keeping our cultural heritage alive through our food. I dedicated my first cookbook, with 3-generations worth of recipes and family stories, to my niece Kimberly. I wrote in the book: “May she cherish and pass on the Indo Dutch food culture and everything that goes with it, by frequently cooking and serving dishes from this book.”
This caught the eye of Margaret Leidelmeijer, Coordinator of Knowledge Center and Exhibitions at the Indisch Herinneringscentrum. Leijdelmeijer and her team had started preparing for a new exhibition in the Spring of 2021 and were in the process of researching and selecting suitable families. The fact that my cook book was about generations, passing on family stories and traditions resulted in an invitation to be part of the exhibition Ons Land. To me, this feels as one of the crowning achievements in my pursuit to preserve our heritage by sharing our story with a wider audience. The family feels honored to have been included.
The exhibition begins in the present. With the – often confrontational – traces of the colonial past and the way in which they resonate in Dutch society to this day. In Ons Land, the visitor travels back in time and is confronted with aspects of the decolonization of Indonesia on the basis of eight family stories. There are interesting visuals and objects. The visitors are provided with a headset to listen to the different videos.
In order to understand these family stories, Ons Land takes the visitor to colonial society with its characteristic racial, cultural and social segments, the Second World War, the Bersiap period and colonial war, the forced departure from Indonesia between 1945 and 1964, the journey to Europe. and the arrival and reception in the Netherlands. At the end of the exhibition, the focus is on the youngest generations: on their lives between there and here and then and now.
My mother Jessy Chevallier – Keasberry was interviewed on video about her life starting in the former Dutch East Indies, then migrating to the Netherlands. We loaned props of our former Indonesian restaurant Djokja in Amsterdam and my grandmothers’ cookbook 1st edition is on display, as well as my cookbook. My niece Kimberly, the fourth generation, was filmed explaining her growing interest in her roots while sharing some family pictures. In another room you can see a letter on display, written by my late aunt Nessy, during the Bersiap period. A letter addressed to her mother that never arrived but was miraculously preserved over the many years and handed over to the Dutch state. My great grandfather Neville was a photographer in Malang. He made special pictures of the countryside landscapes, beautiful places and every day life that can be viewed on a Stereoscopic viewer. This is a device by which two photographs of the same object taken at slightly different angles are viewed together, creating an impression of depth and solidity He had a subscription service you could sign up for and he would send you a new series of these special photographs by mail every month. Click here for more information .
You can hear my grandmother talking about her time during WWII and I got to say a view words too. In another room there are family pictures on the wall.
Title Ons Land
The title Ons Land refers both to the present-day Netherlands and to the country of origin that would continue to play an important role in many ways: in culture, memory, identities and communities.
Ons Land is not neutral. The story is not complete and is not finished. The exhibition does not claim to present the ultimate story about decolonization, but to shed light on it from different perspectives and through the eyes of the storytellers. As a snapshot in the ongoing processing process in which new elements also require attention. Above all, Ons Land wants to encourage discussion and reflection on the Netherlands’ colonial past and the way in which it continues to affect and how people deal with it.
Ons Land is made by the Indisch Herinneringscentrum (Indies Remembrance Center ) and the Moluks Historisch Museum (Moluccan Historical Museum), housed in Museum Sophiahof, Sophialaan 10, 2514 JR Den Haag, Netherlands.