20 April 2021

Mini ‘Brown Bag’ Research Session

BROWN BAG SESSION | 20 April | 13:00 - 16:00 | Zoom

(JuniorFellowsResearch Associates, and University Interns: Mini-‘Brown Bag’ Research Session.  If you would like to join us, please email for the Zoom link. The Zoom link will be sent the morning of Tuesday, April 20. 

In an effort to nurture research on the collection of the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (NMVW), which consists of nearly 450,000 objects and 750,000 photographic images, the Research Center for Material Culture (RCMC), the research institute of the Tropenmuseum, the Museum Volkenkunde, the Afrika Museum, and the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam, welcomes fellows, junior fellows, research associates and university student interns. To learn more about each other’s inquiries and offer a means of doing research in a time in which social distancing and travel restrictions ask that we think our work differently, this mini-conference offers just one way for us to connect across spaces. 

13:00 – Opening, Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken

13:10 – Welcome from Henrietta Lidchi (TBC) and  Wayne Modest (TBC) 

13:20 – 14:00:

Panel I: Careful (re)thinking of practices of the ethnographic

  • Intro of Jessica Hemmings by Daan van Dartel
  • Jessica Hemmings, “Reading Material”
  • Valentina Gamberi, "Beyond the Mystical: Reflections on Asian Material Religion"
  • Callum Fisher, "From Provenance to Potentiality: Museum Practices and Dispersed Collections"

14:00 – 14:30:

Panel II: Thinking and problematizing critical categories – the urban, the modern, the universal, the multicultural

  • Robert Flahive, "Redefining the Van Nelle Factory: Modernist Site Entangled with the Histories of Colonialism"
  • Dr. Alejandro Campos, "Multiculturalism in the work of Aldo and Hannie van Eyck. Rethinking universalist notions in architecture"
  • Paoletta Holst & Paolo Patelli, "Resequencing the Logic of the Tillema Collections. Engaging Otherwise with the Colonial Archive"

14:30 – 15:20:

Panel III: Telling stories materially

  • Jaimee Comstock-Skipp, "Cataloguing Persianate Arts of the Book in the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen"
  • Leonor Faber-Jonker, "An African inheritance: Unlocking stories about objects from the home"

15:20 – 15:50:

Panel IV: Fashioning the stories we tell

Moderator: Daan van Dartel

  • Ella Broek, Jane Stjeward-Schubert & Michelle Piergoelam, "The technique and the experience of Afro-Surinamese costume"
  • Sabine Bolk, "Project Re-telling the History of the (Indo-)European Influence on Batik"

15:50 – 16:00: Closing

Jessica Hemmings | Reading Material


The Reading Material project attempts a step towards decolonising the Tropenmuseum archive by offering speculative voices for archival accessions through literary pairings with textiles held in the collection. The research approach proposes a triangulation of existing textiles with existing literature and new commissioned fiction and poetry. This approach aims to unlock some archival silences by offering speculative rather than definitive voices for archival accessions with limited or partial provenance. Reading Material is interested in testing a playful triangulation between textiles and texts that span material and literary genres as well as geographies and languages. Multiple, rather than singular, voices are sought in an attempt to loosen the archive from a blinkered quest for accuracy through a single definitive historical voice. It is an intentionally eclectic strategy that moves from selected textiles towards literary voices, and from selected literature back into the archive in a search for combinations which do not exclusively privilege either the textile or the text. 

Reading Material » (


Jessica Hemmings is Professor of Craft & Vice-Prefekt of Research at HDK-Valand, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She studied Textile Design at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with a BFA (Honors) in 1999 and Comparative Literature (Africa/Asia) at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, earning an MA (Distinction) in 2000. Her PhD, awarded by the University of Edinburgh in 2006, is published by kalliope paperbacks under the title Yvonne Vera: The Voice of Cloth (2008). In 2010 she edited a collection of essays titled In the Loop: Knitting Now published by Black Dog and in 2012 edited The Textile Reader (Berg) and wrote Warp & Weft (Bloomsbury). Her editorial and curatorial project, Cultural Threads: transnational textiles today, is a book about postcolonial thinking and contemporary textile practice (Bloomsbury: 2015) and was accompanied by a travelling exhibition Migrations (2015-2017).


Paoletta Holst & Paolo Patelli | Resequencing the Logic of the Tillema Collections. Engaging Otherwise with the Colonial Archive


The project problematizes the photography and films of Hendrik Freerk Tillema (1870- 1952), a Dutch pharmacist, entrepreneur, self-taught ethnographer and photographer, lobbyist and advocate for hygienic standards in the Dutch Indies, who lived in Semarang for twenty years of his life up until WWI. The photographs and films that Tillema produced or collected during his time in colonial Indonesia are located in the archives of the Museum voor Volkenkunde, the Tropenmuseum and the Eye Filmmuseum. With the Tillema collections as case study the project intends to develop new narratives through the artistic and rigorous mobilisation of archival materials, while tracing the origins of fragmented knowledge and reflecting on systems and values with regard to the preservation of heritage. The aim is to contribute meaningfully to the debate on the decolonisation of archives, and to promote their public accessibility and outreach. By developing and deploying innovative methods and digital tools at the intersection of information design and the humanities, the critical documentary will mobilise knowledge and concerns through an open, generative process that will unfold through internal workshops, public participatory sessions, performance lectures and a video essay.


Paoletta Holst is an artist, architectural researcher and writer based in Brussels. Her practice operates at the intersection of different disciplines to investigate the social, historical and political dimension of architecture and the urban environment. Since 2018 she has been researching colonial history and architecture of the Netherlands in Indonesia.

Paolo Patelli manipulates architecture, research, and artistic practice. His work is empirically scaffolded in ethnographic observations, media excavations and archival mediations. He teaches at the Design Academy Eindhoven and at the Sandberg Instituut. He is a 2020/2021 Fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude. He holds a PhD from Politecnico di Milano.


Valentina Gamberi | Beyond the Mystical: Reflections on Asian Material Religion


Fieldwork in Taiwanese museums established by Buddhist groups or Chinese folk religious temples, though, has highlighted how problematic framing Asian religious materiality only in terms of the categories of the “mystical” and the “ritual” is. The local displays of Buddhist and folk religious artefacts transcend the dichotomy sacred-profane for offering vernacular understandings of heritage, pedagogy, and social prestige. Valentina will reflect on her two different experiences for brainstorming on postcolonial curatorship.  


In her intervention, Valentina reflects on the challenges of displaying Asian material religion in museum settings as encountered during her doctoral and post-doctoral research. European and North American museums often display Asian religious artefacts to make visitors understand broader religious categories, such as “Buddhist” or “Hindu” “religious systems.” In so doing, on the one hand, spatially and culturally heterogeneous artefacts are grouped together in an attempt to holistically portraying Asian religions. On the other hand, curators re-compose religious artefacts in reconstructions of ritual settings as a way of “giving context”, with a striking continuity with colonial “dioramas” and altars in museum galleries. Fieldwork in Taiwanese museums established by Buddhist groups or Chinese folk religious temples has highlighted how problematic framing Asian religious materiality only in terms of the categories of the “mystical” is. The local displays of Buddhist and folk religious artefacts transcend the dichotomy sacred-profane for offering vernacular understandings of heritage, pedagogy, and social prestige. Valentina reflects on her two different experiences for brainstorming on postcolonial curatorship. 

Valentina Gamberi is a museum anthropologist working on alternative ways of displaying Asian material religion. Her research intertwines anthropology of religion, material religion and museum anthropology. During her PhD at the University of Chester, she has focused on vernacular Hindu collections in European and American collections. Her post-doctoral research has brought her to Taiwanese religious temples and museums established by religious groups. Valentina's work compares in the journals Material Religion, Religion&Culture, the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, among others. Berghahn has recently published her doctoral research under the title Experiencing Materiality: Museum Perspectives (March 2021).


Ella Broek, Jane Stjeward-Schubert & Michelle Piergoelam I The technique and the experience of Afro-Surinamese costume.


This research is embedded in the collaborative project Tailors and Wearers, initiated by anthropologist Ella Broek, koto and angisa expert Jane Stjeward-Schubert and photographer Michelle Piergoelam.

Rather than seeing dress as a neutral instrument to convey identity, this research examines its transformative quality from a phenomenological perspective and looks at how embodied sartorial practices are involved in the construction of subjectivity/identity. Central to this research is the kotomisi, a woman dressed in Afro-Surinamese costume, of which the koto (the name of the skirt as well as the entire costume) and angisa (folded headgear) are important parts. It considers, for example, the weight of an angisa folded with three cloths or the skid resistance of a starched skirt. Following the idea that the body is the primary site for experiencing and becoming to know the world, this research focuses on bodily sensations and experiences on the one hand and on how craft is used to create a certain mood for the wearer, on the other.


BIO | Ella Broek

Ella Broek is a dressmaker and anthropologist and currently a research associate at the Research Center for Material Culture. Her interests sit at the intersection of social sciences and cultural heritage studies on the one hand and the multidisciplinary field of (fashion) design, where craft, design and theory converge, on the other. Within this general focus, her current work takes agency as a primary topic, discussing and investigating materials (and their potential to act) within varying cultural traditions. Of particular note is her ongoing research into the satorial tradition of the koto, a form of cultural dress worn by Surinamese women, for which she works with specific local Dutch-Surinamese communities in Rotterdam. Her crossover practice originated from her personal fascination with how clothing can be experienced and how that experience can ultimately be influenced through design processes. Ella enjoys collaborating with others to translate findings into (public)programs.


BIO | Jane Stjeward-Schubert

Jane Stjeward-Schubert (Paramaribo, 1955) is a koto and angisa expert and hatmaker. She inherited her interest in fashion and clothing from her mother who was a home seamstress. Her love for Surinamese cultural heritage and her fashion background created a drive to preserve and share with others everything she knows about the koto and angisa.  Jane Stjeward-Schubert obtained her HBO diploma in Social Work from SOSA in 1994. She is now retired and until recently worked as a coordinator in terminal care. Jane has learned the craft of the Afro-Surinamese traditional clothing via different workgroups as well as from experts in both Suriname and the Netherlands. She followed various courses in the field of hat making and tailor-made ladies clothing. As a member of So Mi Tan and the working group Sisi, she designed and released her own collection of angisas.


BIO | Michelle Piergoelam

Michelle Piergoelam (Rotterdam, 1997) is an art photographer who recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. She creates stories based on cultural myths, dreams and memories. She consciously draws from native legends and geography, building on the importance of preserving and sharing in the diversity of history and anthropology. These images bear witness to the human condition and our innate desire to tell stories. Despite her Surinamese background, she initially knew little about the country, and so her curiosity to learn more about it drew her attention towards discovering the historical narratives for herself. She then became more conscious of the significance of telling cultural stories.  For her most recent project, The untangled tales, she was nominated for Blurring the Lines 2020, the Kassel Dummy Award 2020 and received second prize for the 2020 Zilveren Camera Prize for Storytelling.


Leonor Faber-Jonker | An African inheritance: Unlocking stories about objects from the home


In 2017, Leonor Faber-Jonker inherited a collection of African objects from her grandmother, a former migrant to Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Opper-Volta (Burkino Faso). Faber-Jonker aims to establish a dialogue between these inherited objects in her home and similar or related objects in the museum collections. How does her grandmother’s collection resonate with objects collected by other Dutch migrants? What happens when ethnographic artefacts become heirlooms or when an heirloom becomes a museal object? The research project lays the groundwork for Faber-Jonker’s forthcoming book.


Leonor Faber-Jonker is an author, researcher, and artist. In her work she explores the relations between memory, materiality, and meaning in practices surrounding statues, places, human remains, collections, and (colonial) objects. She writes fiction and non-fiction, makes collages & zines, photographs, and collects. In 2015, she graduated with honors from the RMA Modern History at the University of Utrecht, with a thesis about the material practices surrounding skulls of victims of the genocide in German South-West Africa.


Sabine Bolk | Project Re-telling the History of the (Indo-)European Influence on Batik

Batik WM-27272

My researchproject is focused on batiks made between 1840-1890 that are either attributed to an Indo-European Batikentrepreneur or are seen as having an Indo-European style or influence. I am trying to re-tell this history by determine what we can actually view as ‘European’ or ‘Indo-European’ influence.  To re-tell the history of the (Indo-)European influence on Batik, I use as a starting point the story and batiks attributed to Carolina Josephina von Franquemont (1815-1867). 

She is seen as the first entrepreneur that introduced a European style into Javanese batiks. Over the years many batiks got attributed to her with little or unclear provenance, mentioning the Batiks are made ‘in the style of Von Franquemont' or using the term ‘Prankemon’. They were used in books which even resulted in new attributions from the 1990’s onwards. On the other hand I found donated pieces of which the owners claim it was made her, but some of these pieces have never been displayed or weren’t photographed yet.

At the moment I am mapping out what is actually the Dutch, European and Indo-European influence on Javanese batik. I am working out the provenance of all batiks attributed {at one point in time}  to Von Franquemont in the NMvW and Wereldmuseum collection. And hopefully I can share a little on the laboratoriumresearch we are hoping to do on the colours used in these Batiks.


Sabine Bolk (1984) is a Dutch artist who has been exploring Batik, the Indonesian resist-dye technique for textile, for the last 12 years. The inspiration doesn’t only come from the technique, but also from the language of the patterns and the philosophy of Batik. On her blog ’The journey to Batik’ she writes about her discoveries, journeys and research. In 2009 and 2016 Sabine went to Java, Indonesia, to document to process of Batik making. In October 2019 she went to Indonesia to launch her current researchproject. In her researchproject she works on Retelling the History of the (Indo-)European Influence on Batik. Sabine is currently a Research Associate at the Research Center for Material Culture in Leiden (NL) to research the batik collections in Dutch museums & archives. She writes for different platforms, organises events, gives talks, presentations and workshops. She not only gets inspiration from Batik, she also works on promoting, preserving and protecting Batik.


Dr. Alejandro Campos | Multiculturalism in the work of Aldo and Hannie van Eyck. Rethinking universalist notions in architecture.

14The research aims to analyse the development of a multiculturalist discourse in European post-war architecture (50-60s) in response to universalist notions of the Modern Movement (1928-1959). It will focus on the work of the Dutch architects Aldo and Hannie van Eyck (1918-1999/2018), who built their theoretical framework by merging modern architecture, prewar European avant-garde and the artistic production of non-Western cultures. In order to do so, it will be necessary to introduce a bottom-up qualitative methodology to the field of architecture that will use the Van Eycks' own house in Loenen aan de Vecht (1964) as a source, where it remains their complete collection of ethnographic and modern art, library, travel photographs, and conference slides. The approach to the house as a case study, by a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques for the analysis of the ethnographic and modern art collection, will permit a rich and complex understanding of the Van Eycks' non universalist world-view. The results would constitute the first postcolonial inquiry on the way in which the ethnographic paradigm of the sixties transformed post-war architecture.


Dr. Alejandro Campos is an architect and PhD in Architecture (Polytechnical University of Valencia, 2013 and 2018) and currently a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at the Department of Architecture, TU Delft, with the research project ‘Multiculturalism in post-war architecture’. His research focuses in the history of post-war architectural design, particularly the work of Team 10, Aldo van Eyck and the British context. He has worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Architecture at Aalto University, Finland (2018-2019), and has published his research results in international scientific journals such as Architectural Research QuarterlyArchitecture, City and EnvironmentZarchOxford Review of Education, etc. In 2018 he cofounded Arqtistic, and architecture+research atelier.  


Callum Fisher | From Provenance to Potentiality: Museum Practices and Dispersed Collections

'RV-265-59: Ceremoniële hoofdmanshoofdtooi’ My doctoral research focuses on the ways in which practitioners working in different types of museum engage with the anti-colonial and world-making potential of collections acquired in colonial contexts. The objects at the centre of my research originate from Australia and the Southern Pacific, where they were acquired through various means by employees of Hamburg’s former Godeffroy Museum. When this institution was dissolved in 1885, its inventory was sold to ethnographic and natural history museums throughout Europe. My research pays particular attention to the consequences of this dispersal.

 This brings me to Leiden as a number of these objects are today held in the depots of the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. Archival research and a short-term ethnography will form the core of my work at the RCMC, as I explore how understandings of an object’s provenance and potential can vary depending on the contemporary museum context. Engaging with multiple field sites allows me to observe how the boundaries between ‘ethnographic objects’ and ‘natural history specimens’ are enacted. My work asks how objects with a similar provenance come to be so differently embedded in disciplinary frameworks, looking to the generative potential that lies beyond these categories. Situating these questions within Europe’s changing contemporary museum landscape, I draw on literature concerning affordances and material culture in the museum, as well as current debates about provenance research.

Funding for my PhD is provided by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes).


I am currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) at the Institute for European Ethnology of the Humboldt University in Berlin. My doctoral research is supervised by Prof. Dr. Sharon Macdonald and deals with a collection of objects acquired in colonial contexts that is today dispersed between museums around Europe. My two primary field sites for this research are the Museum am Rotherbaum - Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) in Hamburg and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris.

My current project emerged during time spent researching at the MNHN in Paris, where I was based during a European Joint Master’s Degree in Heritage Management (DYCLAM). The two-year programme also included periods of study at the Instituto Politécnico do Tomar and the Università di Napoli Federico II, focusing on different aspects of critical heritage studies and heritage management practice. I first came to CARMAH in 2018 to conduct research for my master’s thesis as an intern project assistant on the EU Horizon 2020 TRACES project (Transmitting Contentious European Heritages with the Arts).


Robert Flahive | Redefining the Van Nelle Factory: Modernist Site Entangled with the Histories of Colonialism


TM-60016772. Theeplantage bij de Gunung Masigit, Fotograaf: G.F.J. (Georg Friedrich Johannes) Bley, (Jever 1855 - Buitenzorg 1944) Verwerving: schenking: geschonken door G.F.J. (Georg Friedrich Johannes) Bley, (Jever 1855 - Buitenzorg 1944

This project explores the entangled afterlives of twentieth-century modernist architecture, Dutch colonialism, and architectural preservation by forging connections between the RCMC collections and the Van Nelle Factory, a World Heritage List site designed to improve labor conditions for processing tea, coffee, and tobacco from the Dutch colonies in 1929. The project draws on RCMC collections to narrate the people, locations, processes, and objects that are silenced in the World Heritage List materials’ narrow focus on the architectural genius of the Van Nelle Factory. The project not only hopes to connect the geographies elided by the representation of the histories of the Van Nelle Factory, but also to linger on what it means to muddle the constitutive role of European colonialism in the making of twentieth-century modernist architecture. The project culminates in a discussion on the relationship of colonialism, modernist architecture, and architectural preservation with preservationists, scholars, and curators.


Robert Flahive is a PhD Candidate in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) program at Virginia Tech.  He explores the intersections of urbanism, architectural theory, history, historic preservation, and international politics by focusing on the preservation of twentieth century modernist architecture and planning produced through European colonialism in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa. In his dissertation, Preserving Whiteness: Reorienting the Histories of Colonialism and Modernism through Architectural Preservation, he examines the legacies of colonialism on forms of knowledge, institutions, and practices that narrate the built environment. By analyzing UNESCO World Heritage List materials and in drawing on ethnographic methods with local preservationists, he shows how architectural preservationists remake histories of colonialism and racial difference that organized the built environment they preserve. He holds an MA from American University of Beirut and a BA from Washington University in St. Louis.


Jaimee Comstock-Skipp | Cataloguing Persianate Arts of the Book in the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen.



Jaimee Comstock-Skipp is a PhD candidate at Leiden University preferring to reside in Istanbul and Tashkent to finish up fieldwork and dissertation chapters. Her interests are in Persian-language manuscript arts produced outside of Iran, in Central Asia and the Ottoman realm.