Blind spots. Images of the Danish West Indies colony

Exhibition in The Black Diamond

19 May 2017 - 3 February 2018 The Rotunda
Early photograph (daguerreotype) of the Danish girl Louisa Bauditz and her wet nurse Charlotte Hodge, c. 1847.
Early photograph (daguerreotype) of the Danish girl Louisa Bauditz and her wet nurse Charlotte Hodge, c. 1847.

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Monday-Friday 10-19
Saturday 10-18
Sunday closed

To mark the centenary of the sale of the Danish West Indies, The Royal Library is putting on a large exhibition about the visual cultural history of the islands. The exhibition focuses on images and postcards in Danish archives and collections. And asks what the images from the island actually show – and what one is unable to see.

The three Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John were Danish colonies for over 250 years, and the collections at The Royal Library, as also other Danish archives, are full of objects from this part of Denmark and the islands' common history.

The exhibition focuses on the visual material that is in the library: maps, postcards, photographs, newspapers, etc. The many reproductions might perhaps seem to provide a direct window onto Denmark's colonial past, but no reproduction is neutral, and generally speaking the images were created by and for those in power. The mapping of the islands, for example, was not just a neutral scientific registration but also the first step towards being able to portion out and exploit the land commercially. And the many beautiful illustrations of idyllic plantation life do not show the enslaved Africans, whose freedom and health were sacrificed by the plantation owners in the process of taming nature and cultivating the soil.

Events: Colonialism, racism, and migration

14/9 19:00 - Danish event
Delicate tales
Fragile treaures from the Danish West Indies 

25/9 19:00 Debate - Danish event
Dansk kolonihistorie i forandring

19/10 20:00 International Authors' Stage
Riad Sattouf (FR)

17/11 kl. 20 Concert
Voices from the Danish West Indies: 'Stand on your feet and fight'

29/11 kl. 19 Debate - Danish event
Arven efter kolonierne

See the online version of the exhibition here

The exhibition shows a selection of motifs from the first etching of Columbus meeting the 'noble savages' of the West Indies in the 15th century, via the Danish families' photo albums from around the year 1900 as well as the unsentimental newspaper descriptions of runaway slaves up to the present-day enticing advertisements for trips to the silver sandy beaches of the islands. The historical material is displayed alongside art works by the visual artists La Vaughn Belle, Jeannette Ehlers and Nanna Debois Buhl, both of whom work with the presentation of Denmark's colonial past. And en route at the exhibition a number of people's various present-day reactions to the images will feature on a parallel soundtrack.

The exhibition is part of The Royal Library's overall observance of the centenary of the sale, which also includes digitalisations, workshops, lectures and conversations, conferences and a concert. 

User-involving activities
A number of activities enable users to gain access to working with the library material so as to create their own interpretations of the history of the islands.

Representing History Through Data – A Datasprint Series
Researchers and students cooperate on analysing maps, images, folktales, customs statements etc. and visualising the data in digital form – read more here.

What Lies Unspoken
During Spring 2017 a series of workshops have been led by Art Historian dr. Temi Odumosu of Living Archives to discuss the images shown in the exhibition Blind spots. The conversations have been recorded and soundbites have been assembled into five sound interventions called What Lies Unspoken. The interventions can be listened to in the exhibition and online. The workshop series is a collaboration between Royal Danish Library, the National Gallery of Denmark and Living Archives. What Lies Unspoken is funded by the Nordea Foundation and is part of the Historier om Danmark project.

Remix tool
Space & Time are developing a remix tool that enables people to make their own collages of the photographer Peter Elfelt's stereo photographs from the islands.

Lectures and debates
Debates and International Authors' Stage events focusing on the present-day importance of colonial history will be held at The Black Diamond. The series of events will have the journalist Adam Holm as moderator (Autumn 2017).

A newly composed work based on the history of the Danish West Indies will be given its first performance. (Autumn 2017).

Educational material
Digital educational material focusing on the understanding of images, the history of the media and interpretation of visual material as historical sources will be published in April 2017.

Scientific conference
In collaboration with Copenhagen University, the international research conference 'Unfinished stories: colonialism race and representation' will take place (Autumn 2017).