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Returning the Gaze is Sites of Memory's latest sites specific performance. It will premiere on November 17 and can be seen on November 19 and 20 in Middelburg. After sold-out shows in Haarlem and Amsterdam, the team of multidisciplinary artists shines light on historical stories and locations from Middelburg. The performance is about making ignored voices heard and making underexposed people visible. The dominant, mostly white gaze versus the suppressed perspective from which colonial history is viewed, is central to this performance. 


Returning the Gaze takes the audience back to November 1596. That year, about 130 African men, women and children arrived in Middelburg by ship. They were prisoners aboard the ship of merchant Pieter van der Hagen and captain Melchior van den Kerckhoven. A viewing day was organized on the Abdijplein on November 18, during which they were exhibited to people in the city. As baptized Christians they could live in freedom, however two weeks later the children, women and men, were still reduced to commodities by the government of the Republic. After a short stay in Middelburg, they had to embarked again and were sold in the West Indies. 

Returning the Gaze presents the echo and resonance of these stories. What was the impact of this history on the residents of Middelburg in the past and in the present? The audience can expect a theatrical experience where local underexposed stories from the colonial history are shared through dance, poetry and music.


November 17, 4 PM (premiere)

November 19, 1 PM and 4 PM  

20 November, 1 PM and 4 PM


In closing of the performance Returning the Gaze, a series of thirteen portraits on fabric are revealed created by visual artist Judith Westerveld, in accordance with the Sites of Memory team. They depict women of colour that lived in Amsterdam, or the former colonies of the Netherlands in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, that we felt needed to be given a rightful place in the exhibition Panorama Amsterdam of the Amsterdam Museum. Find information about ordering a portrait below.


On four long banners that drape the ‘catwalk’ where the closing scene takes place, the portraits that are presented are silhouettes linked to the names of twelve women of colour whose stories recorded in archives spoke to us: Charlotte Magdalena Reda, Elisabeth Maria Antonia Aspasia, Wilhelmina Kelderman, Cathalina del Monte, Clara, Francesca, Mimi Elizabeth Kambel, Lea van Bali, Serafina van Brazilië, Sara Malagesa, Chistina van Geugten and Juliana. Judith Westerveld created the silhouettes based on portraits made of women of colour by various artists, such as Rembrandt, Frans van Mieris, Cornelis van Dalen (II) and Cornelis de Bruin, who drew or painted them without recording their name. 

The silhouettes are placed against contemporary photographs of the places in Amsterdam where these women lived, worked, and died, such as the area in and around the Jodenbreestraat that was home to a small Afro-Atlantic community, the Jordaan, the grand canal houses of the so called 'Goudenbocht', and the Diaconie Oude Vrouwenhuis. Or the places where they were married, baptized and buried, such as the Möses and Aaron Kerk and the Zuiderkerk. Illustrations of hibiscus, ginger and podosiri (açaipalm), plants whose roots and leaves, flowers and fruits have healing properties, frame the portraits of the women. 


In the middle of the ‘catwalk’ the portraits of Susanna Dumion, Serafina van Brazilië, Mimi Elizabeth Kambel and Charlotte Magdalena Reda are highlighted. These are large rectangular fabrics, the women’s faces and names framed by the healing plants. Hibiscus envelopes Susanna Dumion and Charlotte Magdalena Reda. Ginger envelopes Serafina van Brazilië. Podosiri (açaipalm) envelopes Mimi Elizabeth Kambel.


Susanna Dumion’s portrait stands out, as it is the only one that is not a silhouette. In 1813, on the occasion of her 100th birthday, a portrait was made of her that has been preserved in the collection of the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. It is a special document, as there are few portraits of (formerly) enslaved women whose name and life story are known. Judith Westerveld altered Susanna Dumion’s portrait based on the research the team of Sites of Memory did about her life. Exchanging her hat for an angisa folded in the pattern that communicates the coded message ‘Let Them Talk’, adding a shawl in the same batik fabric and a necklace, returns her Surinamese identity to the portrait. 

Purchase a portrait

The portraits of Susanna Dumion, Serafina van Brazilië, Mimi Elizabeth Kambel and Charlotte Magdalena Reda have been made into a high quality art print and can be purchased by sending an email to


Size: 30 x 40 cm

Medium: Pigmented Inkjet print on Hahnemuhle White Velvet 270g paper.

Price: €40

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Credit: Judith Westerveld

Listen to the podcast about Returning the Gaze in Amsterdam. Dionne Verwey will be in conversation with Jennifer Tosch (co-founder Sites of Memory and founder Black Heritage Tours) and Maurice Zeleky (Head of Marketing and Communication Amsterdam Museum). They discuss the collaboration between Sites of Memory and Amsterdam Museum and the need for institutions to share underrepresented stories with the public.

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The artists' collective Sites of Memory was approached to create a prelude in the run-up to the Scheepvaartmuseum's new exhibition 'The Atlantic World'. This resulted in the art installation ‘Decoding the Atlantic World’, and is a collaboration between Sites of Memory founders Jennifer Tosch, Katy Streek and artists Raul Balai and Jarrett Erasmus.



On Wednesday 29 June, two Malian musicians Ballaké Sissoko and Habib Koité will perform at Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. This evening Sites of Memory will share a programme: 19:15 we’ll screen Future for the Past - The Movie followed by a short Q&A, at 20:00 there will be a teaser of our new performance 'Returning the Gaze'. Get your tickets via the following link



Did you miss the performance Future for the Past or would you like to revisit some of the stories? You can now visit our Creative Archive, a space where you can read background information about the sites, listen to performance text and watch 360 videos. This space allows you to navigate through stories from The Netherlands to South Africa, from past, present and future.





Get your ticket for Returning the Gaze in Middelburg!



Returning the Gaze can be seen on 17, 19 and 20 November and starts at Kloostergangen in Middelburg. This site specific performance is about the colonial history of Middelburg. Local underexposed stories are interspersed with scenes of dance, poetry, and live music on location in the city.


The performance lasts 45 minutes and is in Dutch, with text in English, Sranan Tongo and Papiamentu.




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