Adding new meanings and knowledge to a colonial-era photographic collection and moving images through a polyphonic and participatory exhibition project - Collection Con Bruijning and the Moravian Church (50s 60s of 20th century)

Jobun Polimé

Palavras-chave: Immaterial heritage; Oral History; Polyphony; Decolonization; Aucan Maroon community; Archives; Counter-hegemonic narratives

Participação: presencial


In 2017, the Aucan Maroon community in Diitabiki (Suriname) started working on a heritage preservation project that will result in a museum. Initiated by Gaanman Bono Velanti and led by anthropologist Thomas Polimé, it incorporates many aspects of the community's life and culture, such as objects, rituals and nature. The community’s history dates back to the seventeenth-century, and its culture is very much alive today, although in danger of being lost due to external pressures like gold mining. Projects such as this one attest to the need felt amongst community members, both in Suriname, the Netherlands and other diaspora countries, to preserve their culture and way of life for future generations.

A sub-project which is derived from the Diitabiki museum initiative, is an exhibition called: ‘Hidden colonial heritage back to the people. The goal of the initiative is to expose a hidden part of Dutch/Surinamese colonial history and make it (digitally) accessible. The end result is:

  • A travelling exhibition, consisting of selected photo material and moving images of the Maroon community.
  • Enriching the cultural heritage in co-creation with the community to stimulate polyphony and to offer perspective to this cultural heritage.
  • Establishing a digitally accessible collection.

The photographic collections are derived from a collection from Con Bruijning, a Surinamese biologist who participated in expeditions to the interiors of Surinam in the 50s-60s of the 20th century and the Moravian church. This society conducted missionary work in the interiors of Suriname. Many of the materials which were collected , were donated to the archives and stored there to preserve the heritage. Until recently these collection were not visible for the Maroon community and therefore could not be viewed by them nor be enriched with their stories and history.


Despite the context in which the photographs were made, this project has been able to critically engage with and to give new meanings to these photographic representations, by adding layers of meaning and producing narratives/knowledge that counter those originally intended. To some extent then and through a participatory and polyphonic approach, this project has enabled “looking past” the colonial gaze and the intentions of the photographers embedded in these photographs (Joanna Besley, 2015), towards claiming representational and narrative agency. Through this process, these photographs can be used to tell stories and to share knowledge about the community, from multiple perspectives and through its own knowledge.

What this participatory exhibition has also shown is that meanings attributed to these photographs are necessarily diverse, based on a series of factors, such as age and cultural context (the Netherlands and Suriname). Through the exhibition, and accompanying activities

  • such as the creation of a podcast, a documentary, exhibition school visit and sharing photographic community stories via social media
  • different meanings and stories are given a voice, further expanding the narrative newly attributed to this collection of photographs.

From photographs made from a white European colonial gaze, these photographs are able to speak to and to be narrated by the members of the community initially represented.


Jobun Polimé is a Change Consultant specialized on the topic of DEI at the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting. He is an open minded, warm person with strong stakeholder management - and facilitation skills. Jobun combines change management expertise with a passion for cultural diversity and inclusion. Typical projects involve topics like Inclusive Leadership, Cultural Reverse Mentoring and Cultural Heritage. Besides his work as a Consultant, Jobun is Chairman of the Wooko Makandie foundation – which has a mission to preserve the culture - and heritage of the Surinamese maroon community – and is also board member of Agora Network. Agora is committed to promote cultural diversity in organizations, via connecting and knowledge sharing. Inclusive Leadership Program, Deloitte Netherlands – coordinate and facilitate senior leaders during their Inclusive Leadership Journey