Exhibiting port cities: 7 exhibitions to explore new angles of port city territories

Conor Hunter, Foteini Tsigoni

There are many stories to be told regarding the development of port cities. Historians, urban planners, engineers and anthropologists all research unique aspects of these complex territories. Each story adds a piece to the puzzle, allowing us to gain a greater understanding of these spaces and apply this to guide them through an uncertain future. In the spirit of the LDE collaboration, we have curated a list of 7 exhibitions which showcase various angles of port city territories. Ranging from experimental to informative, these institutions each provide a unique take which may inspire, teach, doubt or affirm.

  1. Destination Port City - Maritime Museum Rotterdam 

Exhibition: Destination Port City
Artist(s): n/a
Location: Maritime Museum Rotterdam, Rotterdam
Date: 13/12/22 - indefinite

Destination Port City allows visitors to experience the past, present and future of maritime activities in Rotterdam port. Rotterdammers talk about their own experiences in various parts of the city which are unmistakably shaped by the influence of the port. The exhibition is a journey through time, showing how city and port entities influence each other and are inextricably linked. Beautiful pieces from the collection are showcased alongside stories about turbulent developments.

(Taken from https://maritiemmuseum.nl/en/exhibitions/destination-port-city)


  1. Byblos - RMO 

Exhibition: Byblos - The World's most ancient Port
Curator and collaborators: David Kertai collaboration with the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon, the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities and the National Museum of Beirut
Location: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (RMO), Leiden
Date: now - 12/03/23

Byblos is a major exhibition about the world’s most ancient port in Lebanon, with five hundred objects, including masterpieces from the National Museum of Beirut, the Louvre, the British Museum and the American University of Beirut Archaeological Museum. Byblos, a town situated on the coast of present-day Lebanon, played an extraordinary role in the Mediterranean and Middle East from 3000 BC, thanks to the trade in cedar wood. A simple fishing village that had been inhabited since 6500 BC, grew into a prosperous city and became the world’s first international seaport. Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans left their mark on the city.

Taken from (https://www.rmo.nl/en/exhibitions/temporary-exhibitions/byblos/)


  1. Rijksmuseum and Slavery - Rijksmuseum

Exhibition: Permanent exhibition 
Artist(s): 16th and 17th c. Masters
Location: Museumplein, Amsterdam
Date: now - indefinite

Taken from information about 10 objects from the permanent collection that connects with slavery.  (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions/rijksmuseum-and-slavery/story/10-objects-with-a-connection-to-slavery)

This exhibition might be less directly connected with port cities, however it showcases the power port cities had in economical and socio-political perspective in the early Modern period. Every visitor to Amsterdam needs to pay homage to the Rijksmuseum to understand  the impact the Dutch republic and kingdom had on the world. The permanent collection includes pieces primarily coming from the Netherlands and the Dutch colonies, such as paintings, various objects such as chairs, glasses, pots and other tools and accessories. 

Aside from the typical paintings showing the beautiful landscapes of frigates in a calm sea, such as by the famous Willem van Velde de Jonge, the visitor will also encounter objects collected during the duration of the Dutch Indian company. Those objects were collected from the Caribbean, or general Mesoamerica, and from in South East Asia, in Indonesia and China. The underlying meaning observing these objects is double; 1. How vast the Dutch connections were, where different ports from around the world were connected, and 2. How colonization was the glue that bounded all together. 

  1. Permanent Exhibition of Volkenkunde - Leiden

Exhibition: Permanent exhibition
Artist(s): Indigenous people of the world
Location: Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden
Date: now - indefinite

Taken from the Museum Volkenkunde website on the Karten information (https://www.volkenkunde.nl/nl/zien-en-doen/tentoonstellingen/kaarten-navigeren-manipuleren/een-selectie-uit-de-tentoonstelling)

This ethnological museum focuses on understanding and presenting various cultures of indigenous people that are located from the Pacific to south east Asia. Those cultures are represented with active engagement with the source communities in a form that is easy for any viewer to understand their complexities. In similar light with the permanent exhibition of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, this exhibition is mostly constructed on the pillars of colonization and thus indirectly connected with port cities concept of this research project. In this case we however do not see the role of the VOC so much, but a two dimensional showcase of indigenous cultures that the VOC might have encountered in its long distance network. A usual criticism specifically of the Research Centre of Material Culture, that this museum belongs into, is that the exhibitions are exhibited by the white male curator view of these indigenous cultures.

  1. Humans at Sea - National Maritime Museum Amsterdam

Exhibition: Humans at Sea (Mens op Zee)
Artist(s): Collaboration with the Dutch Portrait Gallery 
Location: National Maritime Museum Amsterdam
Date: 07/10/22 - 28/05/2023

(Portrait of an Indonesian crew member aboard the ship Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in 1938, Alphons Hustinx / collection The National Maritime Museum)

Embracing many forms of photography – a medium which has seen numerous transitions in the last 180 years – Humans at Sea presents a wide range of personal stories giving a real sense of the seafaring world. Mariners, passengers, or sailing entirely alone: everyone is going from one place to another, traveling between worlds and sailing beyond the familiar and the known. A life offshore brings freedom and transition, yet it also comes with a social structure and a hierarchy on board. Humans at Sea reveals how sailing the oceans can bring us to a new relationship with ourselves, with others, the ship and the sea, and how this touches on major themes such as gender, inclusion and migration.

Taken from (https://www.hetscheepvaartmuseum.com/whats-on/exhibitions/humans-at-sea)


  1. Futureland - Port of Rotterdam

Exhibition: Futureland
Artist(s): Port of Rotterdam
Location: Maasvlakte 2, Rotterdam
Date: now - indefinite

Getting closer to Europe's most modern port is impossible. Futureland offers a unique experience to visit the port of Rotterdam up close and personal. Accessible via boat or bus, the journey allows visitors to experience the changing landscape of the port city. The final location in Maasvlakte 2 showcases new technological developments in port logistics, whilst also being surrounded by the largest sea vessels in the world.

(Taken from: https://www.portofrotterdam.com/en/to-do-port/futureland)


  1. The Energy Show - Zon, zonne-energie en menskracht - Het Nieuwe Instituut 

Exhibition: The Energy Show - Zon, zonne-energie en menskracht
Artist(s): Matylda Krzykowski & The Solar Biennale
Location: Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam
Date: 03/09/22 - 05/03/22

(Mirka Laura Severa, Solar Views (The Visitor), 2021)

The energy show is ordered chronologically, taking the visitor along a journey through the history of the sun. Lively decorated spaces ask the public to think critically about their own energy culture. The exhibition then allows visitors to engage with a plethora of projects and objects related to solar technology, mostly part of the collection from the museum of solar energy. From the first solar developments made in the previous century to future initiatives that actually propel progress within the energy transition. This wide reaching subject is thus not only approached through a technological and economic lens, yet with exhibited work and questions to the visitor also sheds light on the ecological and societal impact of solar energy.

Taken from: (https://energyshow.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/activiteiten/energy-show-0)