Dance as an opening to the history of slavery

Date of news: 22 March 2021

Can dance make emotions about the history of colonialism and slavery of the Dutch province Gelderland tangible, negotiable and palpable? Cultural scientist Liedeke Plate will investigate this in the new research project Feeling the Traces of the Colonial Past. ‘The debate about the history of slavery past involves more than just words.’

‘When we think of a Schitterende Schaduw Vita Ostendorfcolonial past, we think of Amsterdam in the Golden Age. We are now also thinking of Zeeland and Rotterdam. But we know very little about Gelderland’, says Liedeke Plate. Research by Erfgoed Gelderland shows that Gelderland also has traces of a history of slavery. For example, a number of families from Gelderland owned plantations in Suriname and Guyana, and Africans who were previously enslaved worked as servants in Gelderland.

In the project Feeling the Traces of the Colonial Past*, Plate will research how dance can make unconscious knowledge about the colonial history of slavery in Gelderland tangible, palpable and negotiable. This unconscious knowledge is also called embodied knowledge: a type of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by writing it down or verbalizing it, such as intuition and routines. Plate: ‘The debate about the history of slavery involves more than words. The question is whether it is even possible to put some things into words.’

Dance performance

By examining responses to the dance theatre performance Radiant Shadow, Plate and her team want to gain insight into activating and transferring embodied knowledge and develop a method to measure that unconscious knowledge. The dance performance is produced by Farida Nabibaks, dancer and artistic director of Reframing HERstory Art Foundation. She was born in Suriname as a Dutch person. In later life she found herself carrying ‘a sense of inferiority’. With the performance she wants to express how the pain of the slavery past still lives on in descendants of enslaved people. ‘In theatre, you communicate with the audience through emotions. Because it happens before your very eyes, you can make a connection from the past to the present’, Nabibaks explains in an interview.


In the week of 22 March, a theme week devoted to awareness about racism will take place at Radboud University. Through discussions and lectures, the Anti-Racism Awareness Week aims to create more awareness about racism in the world, in the Netherlands, in Nijmegen and on campus. At the end of the week, Radiant Shadow is performed. Plate: ‘You can't say: slavery was a long time ago and we are living in the here and now. Our modern times and prosperity are inseparable from colonialism. You can't change the past, but you can recognize it and think about how it has shaped and will shape our society.’

*The project is part of a consortium in which three teams from Utrecht University, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen will develop innovative methods to make the past palpable, tangible and negotiable.

Prof. Liedeke Plate will collaborate in her subproject with embodiment researcher Vicky Fisher and Farida Nabibaks, dancer and artistic director of Reframing HERstory Art Foundation, in collaboration with ArtEZ-University of Applied Arts, Heritage Gelderland, Cannenburgh Castle (Geldersch Landschap & Kasteelen), Museum for Equality and Difference (MOED), NiNsee and Reinwardt Academy Heritage Lab / Imagine IC.

Photographer: Vita Ostendorf