Rotterdam | Witte de With Center starts name-change process to shed ties to colonialism

© Witte de With Center
What’s in a Name? A heavy history of colonial oppression, as it turns out.


On June 14 of 2017, an open letter addressed to the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam was published, signed by numerous artists and activists, accusing the center of seemingly flying the flag of decolonisation in its projects, but failing to confront the role of colonialism in its own identity. “What does it mean for a white institution to do ‘critical work’ under the moniker Witte de With? What does it mean to engage in ‘critical reflection on timely issues’ (from Witte de With website) under that name — a name that conjures up a history of terror? What does it mean to validate, market, and circulate such a name?”, the letter asked.


The institution thus decided on September 7 later that year to part ways with its namesake — a high-ranking colonial naval officer who worked for both the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company — and to choose a new identity.


On Sunday, the center’s Instagram announced the launch of the name-change initiative and upcoming programme in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and in recognition of wider decolonisation efforts. The new name will come into effect next year from January 27, but has not yet been decided upon. Suggestions and comments may be made online until September 19.