What’s your advice to the King?

After a restoration of five years the Golden Coach of the Dutch royal family is exhibited at the Amsterdam Museum until 27 February 2022. For many years, until the restoration, the carriage was used mainly at the opening of parliament, Prinsjesdag, or on grand occasions. The showpiece of the Dutch monarchy is however also very controversial.

The reason is its reference to the colonial past of the Netherlands on the left side of the vehicle: a panel called “tribute from the colonies”. The painting depicts people from the colonies (Suriname and the Dutch Indies at the time) paying tribute to a young white woman, symbolizing the Netherlands. Although at the time the carriage was made, 1898, slavery had been abolished, people in the colonies at the time were still overpowered by the Dutch, and became only independent states years later (1945/1950 and 1975).

In more recent years the painting has led to more and more discussions. Is it inappropriate that the royal family travels – even when once a year – in this carriage for national celebrations? Should the family continue to use the carriage? Should the carriage be adapted or go into a museum? While the exhibition highlight the history of the carriage, also discussions are being encouraged. The exhibition program was developed by a team of researchers with diverse backgrounds and specialisms, and was supported and advised by external experts. Thus far King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has refrained from giving his opinion, but opened the exhibition personally.

The Amsterdam Museum invites visitors to share their views. Furthermore a mobile installation travelled through the country. On 25 June the installation was at my city, and of course I had a look. Although I had expected a bit more, it clearly drew the attention of the people of all skin colours passing it on the main square of the city. A few big sheets with information about the Golden Coach, you could write down what you know about the carriage, what it actually means to you, what feelings you have, questions could be ask. In a closed box people could also record a 40-minute advice to the king what he should do with it. In the time I was around several people actually did, while people also had discussions with each other. It will be interesting to see what the final decision about the future of the carriage will be.

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