Dutch Gallery Accused Of Censorship After Removing ‘Offensive’ Names Of Artworks

AN art gallery has been criticised after removing words such as ‘negro’ and 'Mohammedan’ from the descriptions of its artworks in case they cause offence.

'Indian’ and 'dwarf are two other words that have been altered at the the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – leading to accusations that it is pandering to political correctness.

It has removed 'offensive’ words from around 200 titles and descriptions of it works of art, replacing them with less racially charged terminology.

Martine Gosselink, head of the history department at the Rijksmuseum and initiated the project, said: 'The point is not to use names given by whites to others.

'We Dutch are called kaas kops, or cheeseheads, sometimes, and we wouldn’t like it if we went to a museum in another country and saw descriptions of images of us as “kaas kop woman with kaas kop child”’ and that’s exactly the same as what’s happening here.’

The term 'Mohammedan’ – an archaic word for Muslim – is also among those to be changed in a drive to 'get rid of the insulting descriptions’, The Times reports.

Name change: 'Young Negro Girl’ by Simon Maris

Ms Gosselink added: 'Some people are angry with us. They say “Why this change, the Rijksmuseum is trying to be so politically correct.” But in the Netherlands alone, there are a million people deriving from colonial roots, from Suriname, from the Antilles, from Indonesia, and so on that basis alone it’s important to change this.’

It is the first time a European museum has made such a move – which has already come in for criticism.

Art historian Julian Spalding told The Times: 'I think it’s absolutely wrong to remove words like “negro” and even “nigger” from historical texts. On one level, it’s dishonest, because it rewrites history. On an artistic level, it’s censorship.’

Josh Spero, an art critic at Tatler, told the newspaper that removing words that some might find offensive was 'pretending it never happened’.

The museum is in the process of digitally cataloguing the titles and descriptions of around a quarter of its 1.1million works to make them more accessible online.

Among those being altered is the painting 'Young Negro Girl’ by Simon Maris (c.1900). It has been renamed 'Young Girl Holding A Fan’ while the in the description, 'negro servant’ has been changed to 'black servant’.

No British museum has yet suggested altering its descriptions, though the Tate currently houses a piece called 'Head of a Man’ by John Simpson that was called 'Head of a Black’ when first exhibited in 1827.

In the intervening years it has been displayed as 'Head of a Negro’ and more recently 'Male Head Study [The Captive Slave]’.

The Rijksmuseum, which reopened in April 2013 after a ten-year makeover, said it would still keep the original terms on file.

Picture from Rex Features

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