Who are we?

Who are we?

Traces of the colonial past in Brabant

Curators: Vivian Heyms and Silvan Vasilda

The past has left many conscious and unconscious traces in our society. Colonial history is a complex, confusing and painful reality. Together with a diverse group of people from the province of Brabant, we investigate the colonial past and what role it plays in our lives. We mainly focus on the underexposed traces of the colonial past in Brabant. We shape the recalibration and questioning of our past, reflecting on the present and imagining the future as a joint process.

Diverse methods and perspectives

The complexity and scope of the theme lend itself to an examination that makes use of various methods and perspectives. The elements that make up the research can be found on this page.


Central to this program are the personal quests of our core group: a group of 30 people from the larger Eindhoven area (or other cities in the province of Brabant) who reflect on their own experiences of coming across traces of the colonial past. Their personal stories emerge during family and group conversations, and are the main source and content for the presentation that is on show in the Werksalon in the museum. The stories can also be found in the school programs and the Dutch do-it-yourself tour (which can be downloaded here and is available for free at the museum's box office).

These personal quests are translated into themes. This translation lies in the hands of Vivian Heyms and Silvan Vasilda, who place these stories into a larger context by reflecting on them and connecting them with the history and collection of the Van Abbemuseum.


This project is an ongoing research program, in which we will dive deeper into a variety of themes. For that reason, these themes will gradually appear on this page in the coming months.

1. Past, Present & Future

In October 2020, we started our research into the ways in which the past affects our present. We have been shaped by our past and by the past of the generations of people before us. The effects of this may not always be immediately apparent, but they are certainly there. A past that is not actually a past, because you can still see it rooted in ourselves and the system that we live in. In this first theme, we start by asking ourselves what the effects of the colonial past are on our present. How does it affect us to know (or not know) what happened in the past? What aspects from our ancestors can we still see in ourselves ? And what would we like for the future? 

2. Family, Love & Relationships

No one in our lives has as much influence on who we are as our family does. The past of our parents and grandparents is continued to this day, although that might be different for everyone. In this theme we ask ourselves, through group discussions and family discussions, what has been passed on from generation to generation. But we also look at what has nót been passed on, and why that wasn't possible. It is not easy for everyone to find out about their past or talk about it. That can be for various reasons, but our colonial past plays a significant role in that. What else would we like to know about the generations before us? Who were they as human beings and how can we recognise ourselves in them?

3. Identity (will follow)
4. Western Gaze (will follow)
5. Work & Culture (will follow)
6. Traditions & Culture (will follow)


In this four-part series, Silvan Vasilda, together with his family and other people from the province of Brabant, examines what has been passed on from the colonial past (consciously and unconsciously) and how this past leaves traces in the present.


Keep track of the latest developments on our Instagram account


Brabants Erfgoed
Huizen van Aankomst