Here or there? Locating the Karel I Archive - Michael Karabinos

photographer unknown, A woman in a white coat packaging cigars in the familiar Karel I tins at the cigar factory in Eindhoven, s.a., Collection National Archive, Spaarnestad

Here or there? Locating the Karel I Archive Michael Karabinos

15/07/2017 - 26/02/2018

Henri van Abbe, founder of this museum, gained his fortune in the tobacco industry. Archival theorist Michael Karabinos undertook research into the source of Karel I tobacco in Indonesia for the Deviant Practice research programme.

As a fervent lover of painting, in 1933 van Abbe took the initiative to found a museum for contemporary art in Eindhoven. Aside from the building he also donated 26 paintings from his private collection tothe city of Eindhoven.

In the years preceding the Second World War the Karel I cigar factory was one ofthe largest employers in Eindhoven. Karabinos researched the origin of its tobacco. He mapped how tobacco came to Eindhoven from Sumatra and Java via the Fracasti tobacco exchange in Amsterdam,during the final years of Dutch colonization of Indonesia.

Michael Karabinos

Michael Karabinos received his PhD from Leiden University in 2015. He lives and works in Amsterdam.


Here or There? Locating the Karel I Archive, forms part of the museum’s Deviant Practice Research Programme. Central to the programme was its goal of working towards decolonizing the museum and the archive, and removing entrenched formations in each. Decolonizing the archive meant recognizing the colonial in the archive. But first, ‘the archive’ had to be defined. With this project researcher Michael Karabinos set out to define, uncover and construct the archive of Henri van Abbe and his Karel I company by creating a conceptual, multi-pronged archive that exists across space (and time), crossing institutional and international boundaries. The results of this search are presented here.

Henri van Abbe, benefactor of the museum, made his fortune in the early 20th century as the founderof Karel I Cigars. The photographs show a sliver of the process that led to the development of the VanAbbemuseum. They are shown in the projection side-by-side—one ‘here’, one ‘there’—mirroring one another.

A man, drenched in sweat, carries the burden on his head as he is harvesting tobacco in Sumatra.Samples of Sumatran tobacco are similarly held above the heads of men at the Frascati auction house in Amsterdam. Women sit while sorting tobacco in Tegalgondo, Java; mirroring other women in Eindhoven, at the Karel I factory, as they roll tobacco into cigars. Overseen by a Dutchman in a white suit, Indonesian women work in a large room filled with tobacco. This image of colonialism is flipped, as royalty from the Sultanate of Deli oversee Dutch women turn their tobacco into Karel I cigars at van Abbe’s factory in Eindhoven.

Along with the photographs, other fragments of this process are displayed, including the notebook Henri van Abbe used at tobacco auctions, trade publications showing the results of those auctions, and paintings from his donated collection.

Michael Karabinos