(Resequencing) the Logic of the Tillema Collection

lecture performance


‘…Blinded by the brilliance of tropical nature…’

‘A native was in possession of a dove that once overheard
a conversation between two evil ghosts. The first ghost said:
‘I spread sickness and death all around me by mixing my poison into the water. Anyone who drinks this water will die of vomiting and diarrhoea.’ The second ghost said: ‘I bring sickness and death by giving my poison to rats, who then pass it on to man.’ The dove passed this story on to its master, who in turn told it to the elders and wise men of the dessa. Long discussions took place on how to take measures to combat this evil, but no one knew what to do. Finally the oldest from the dessa came to the meeting and was asked for advice. His advice was: ‘Come into contact with water and rats as little as possible, as if you do, only fire can save you. So never take anything but boiled water, and burn any rats you find.’

H. F. Tillema, Kromoblanda, 1915-1927


‘Resequencing the Tillema Collection’ means unpacking the logics that structured the arguments and the propositions traversing the many and heterogeneous publications authored by Tillema in the first half of the 20th century by exploring further the potential of the images and of the collection itself. Throughout Tillema’s published work, maps, graphics, statistical data and photography contribute to lines of argumentation for a socio-political agenda advocating for reform from within the colonial regime. It is possible to recognise beneath his technical, hygienist stance, a specific way of looking. Our project asks if a mobilisation and a critical rearrangement of the Collection can challenge and break down such a look. In the words of Ariella Aïsha Azoulay: ‘how might we tell a story thought to be impossible? One answer is through the potentiality of photography’ — the potential for counter-readings and writings always-already-present in these materials. The archive is the site where we can unlearn and participate in producing the meanings of what is there, and of what might be missing.

(Resequencing) the Tillema Collection — Paoletta Holst and Paolo Patelli

Lecture performance developed in collaboration with Stefan Gofaart and Driepuza Ryan Fortunanda

Jaap Bakema Conference, ‘Observers Observed. Architectural uses of Ethnography

25 november 2021
Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam.

Supported by Research Center for Material Culture and Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie

Link to research:
Resequencing the Logic of the Tillema Collections. Engaging Otherwise with the Colonial Archive