Wanting to be seen is timeless

Unique collection of self-portraits from three different periods in the Look at me! exhibition
Look at me!, from 20 November 2014 to 15 March 2015 in the Park Hall of the Tropenmuseum

Every day millions of people all over the world share photos of themselves. Making selfies is a hype originating from the digital media, Internet and social media. But is this need for self-imaging indeed unique to our time? Or is there a similarity with portrait painting and other forms of self-imaging from other times? The Tropenmuseum has explored its rich historical collection of photographs and discovered astonishing similarities with more recent self-portraits. Look at me! is a visual journey of discovery along portraits of people who determined for themselves how they want to be seen. That is timeless!

Self imaging in three periods

The Look at me! exhibition comprises 80 photos. Images by Woodbury & Page and other 19th-century photo studios never exhibited before; famous studio portraits by James Barnor, Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé; and contemporary self-portraits by artists like Iké Udé, Ni Haifeng and Hélène Amouzou. The portrait photos can be divided into three periods: 19th-century colonial Indonesia; the independence period in the 1950s and 1960s in West Africa; and the multicultural West of today. Three periods in which culture and society changed greatly and people had to rethink who they were and wanted to be.

Astonishing parallels

For the first time portraits from different periods have been brought together in this way. One by one the seemingly innocent studio portraits prove to be carefully staged, layered expressions of cultural identity. Astonishing parallels can be discovered between the portraits from the different periods. For example, on reflection, the use of clothes, attributes and role-playing show correlations. Contemporary and historical images thus enhance each other.


National Museum of World Cultures
The National Museum of World Cultures was established on 1 April 2014 when the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde (1837, Leiden), the Tropenmuseum (1864, Amsterdam) and the Africa Museum (1954, Berg en Dal) were amalgamated. One museum, three locations. The names Tropenmuseum, Africa Museum and Museum Volkenkunde will continue to be used for the public. The museum is one of the top 10 museums in the Netherlands in terms of visitors. The new museum has a collection of more than 400,000 objects. Scholarly activities are based in the Research Centre for Material Culture. The museum’s mission remains as current as ever: to contribute to an open view of the world.


Note for the editorial board

For more information please contact Wilhelmien Hoekstra: T. +31 (0)20-568 8422 / +31 (0)71-5168 800, E. pers@nmvw.nl. Image material can be downloaded below.