The Tropenmuseum (Tropical Museum) is the largest museums in Amsterdam, but not the most visited. (The Vincent Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum/National Museum are more visited, and possibly the Nemo science museum.)
The Tropenmuseum is the public part of the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsors the study of tropical cultures throughout the world. The collection was mostly amassed by the Royal Colonial Institute. The real ethnological and historical treasures of the museum originated in Dutch colonies, Indonesia and Surinam. (If there is anything form the Netherlands Antilles, formally a part of the Netherlands, I did not see it.)
The 1926 building features friezes of Indonesian peasants raising rice.
Almost everything in the museum is glass-encased. Having not yet learned how to suppress the flash on my new camera, this led to many of my photos having reflections of the flash. It’s not that flash photography is banned, but that I (or one) would not want the flashes.
Through February of 2010r, there is a temporary exhibit of Indonesian artist Heri Dono (born in Yogyakarta in 1960). His installations are high-concept but figurative, some involving machinery and many involving multiple wooden figures.
What I most wanted to see, having been repeatedly frustrated in attempts to go to Yogyakarta and see the ancient temple of Borobudur is some carvings from the temple. Of course, there were also shadow puppets from various Indonesian islands.
The museum also has some very striking African masks and other kinds of carvings from Indonesia, Surinam, and West Africa.
The most striking carvings, and the biggest were made by Asmat. The Asmat (formerly called formally called the Irian Jaya) live in the forests on the southwestern portion of New Guinea (the western half of which was a Dutch colony and which was annexed by Indonesia in 1962).
Asmat carvings mostly venerate ancestors, though it is difficult not to call the tall, elaborately carved, unpainted poles “totem poles,” since they include animals-and because many people (including me) cannot pronounce “bisj.” Carved from mangrove roots, these tower 3-4 meters in the central courtyard. There are also some 5-6-meter-long carved Asmat canoes. (It was in Asmat territory that Michael Rockefeller disappeared in 1961. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a substantial collection of Asmat carvings collected by him.)
A number of village and town scenes include mannequins that I mistook as live human beings from the distance. Then when I saw immobile prostitutes in glassed alcoves on the alleys of the Red Light District I initially mistook them for mannequins. (Yes, I had difficulties distinguishing reality from simulacrums in Amsterdam. I blame it on jet lag and did not take any of the legally available drugs…)
A felt tent from some nomads of interior Asia is on display. One may walk in and look at what one might find inside a yurt (as they are called in Mongolia, but this one is from further west.)
There are some video installations and audio guides are available (in English). The signage in the museum is in both Dutch and English.
The galleries are on three floors, opening onto an enclosed central courtyard in which something was being installed or some renovations were being made when I was there earlier this month. The Asmat biljen were accessible in their corner.
Admission for adults in 7.5 euros, 6 for those over 65 or with student IDs, 4 for children aged 6 to 17. (Children under twelve must be accompanied by an adult.)
Located at Linnaeusstraat 2, just east of the zoo, tram 3, 7, 9, 10, 14 and bus 2 stop nearby.
The hours are 10 am – 5 pm. daily, except closing earlier (3 pm) on
the 5th, 24th and 31st of December, and closed 1 January, 30 April, 5 May, and 25 December.
Of course, there is a gift shop! It has a substantial range of world music CDs. There is also a cafeteria with quite eclectic fare.