The traveling image: the photo of captain Broos

There is only one known photograph of Captain Broos (1821-1880), one of the most significant Surinamese Maroon leaders. This project uses ethnographic methods to study the social life of this photograph in the Netherlands, Ghana, and Suriname, and contributes to research on the power of images in the politics of memory and heritage.

A few years ago a group of African-Surinamese Dutch brought a print of this photograph to Ghana, where it is now on display at the slave river memorial site in Assin Manso, Central Region. The site is part of a trans-Atlantic tourism industry catering in particular to people of African descent in the Americas and Europe. For the African-Surinamese Dutch group this is a form of emancipation, of return to the ancestral homeland, and of spiritual repair. The photograph also features in a Dutch TV-series about slavery in Suriname, it is part of an artwork by Remy Jungerman, and it is on display at the Surinamese association ‘Ons Suriname’ in Amsterdam.

Balkenhol will study this photograph ethnographically where it pops up in the Netherlands, Ghana, and Suriname. This includes interviews and participant observation with, among others, a Winti priestess, tour guides, roots tourists, descendants of Broos, and TV anchors.

Images in the politics of memory and heritage

This project ties into Balkenhol’s broader research interests into colonial memory, heritage and religion. In particular, it adds a new dimension to his work on the power of images in the politics of memory and heritage. This will shed light on processes of heritagization and sacralization, and the politics of visualizing blackness.

The project connects to the research strands ‘Intensifying Quests for Tradition and Culture’ and ‘Dynamics of Religion and Culture’ within the Ethnology group of the Meertens Institute. The research project aims to contribute to ‘the development of a conceptual framework that reflects recent theorizing in the fields of postcolonial studies, emotions, material culture, religion and secularism, heritage studies […]’.

Runtime: September 2023 – September 2024, with a possible continuation up until 2025.