Blind spots Images of the Danish West Indies colony

Introduction

The year 2017 marks the centennial of Denmark’s sale of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix to the USA. After more than 200 years of Danish colonial rule, the Danish West Indies became the US Virgin Islands.

Many Danes envision the three Caribbean islands as a remote, exotic paradise. Perhaps this is because so few have actually been there themselves. Many have, however, seen the countless romantic and idealised images of the islands that have circulated in Denmark for centuries. From the virginal dreamlands in the early European travalogues, to idyllic plantation landscapes from the colonial era to present-day travel ads showing turquoise seas and white sandy beaches.

In real life the Danish colony was by no means a paradise for everyone. More than 120,000 enslaved Africans were taken across the Atlantic on Danish ships. Danish archives have only few pictures of the lives of the enslaved and the violence and coercion they suffered. Rather, those archival images primarily show the islands from a Danish perspective. This also holds true for the time following the abolition of slavery.

The Blind Spots exhibition shows a selection of pictures from Danish collections. Many of these images are still used to illustrate what the Danish colony looked like. However, a picture is not a neutral window opening up on the past. It always has a particular angle, reflecting a particular way of depicting the world.

In the exhibition we discuss what the pictures show. We explore popular motifs and consider what they make us see – and not see. We address their points of view and worldviews, and we point out blind spots. This is our interpretation. Our reading is interrupted by statements that others have made about some of the same pictures. We wish to thank everyone who contributed to Living Archives audio interventions, What Lies Unspoken.

- Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer, Sarah Giersing & Mathias Danbolt



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