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Rotterdam’s Kunstinstituut Melly. Photo: Kunstinstituut Melly.
Rotterdam’s Kunstinstituut Melly. Photo: Kunstinstituut Melly.

Former Witte de With Announces Name Change to Kunstinstituut Melly

Rotterdam’s erstwhile Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art today revealed that from January 27, 2021, it will be known as Kunstinstituut Melly. The name springs from a 1990 work, Canadian artist Ken Lum’s Melly Shum Hates Her Job, which is permanently installed on the building’s façade, and which has for years lent its name to the institution’s ground-floor gallery space. The museum noted in a statement that the work’s protagonist has come to signify “not only the image of a female, working-class ‘anti-hero,’ but also a new relationship between the institution, the street, and the communities that it is part of.”

The decision to change the name was taken following an outcry over the museum’s namesake, Witte Corneliszoon de With, a seventeenth-century Dutch naval officer who led colonial expeditions to India, Indonesia, and South America. In 2017, the institution was castigated for retaining the colonizer’s name while staging an art project, Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s Cinema Olanda: Platform, that dealt with the history of Dutch colonialism; Witte de With announced in September of that year that it would change its name.

“The institution’s renaming responds to the claims raised by the larger decolonial movement in such a way that the new name, even by evocation, cannot disregard this moment,” acknowledged director Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy in a statement.

The new name was chosen via a process begun in 2018, during which the museum sought the opinion of more than 280 participants through forums and online surveys. An external public advisory committee culled several names from a list of suggestions and submitted these for public review, which was conducted by more than 70 participants in the course of three sessions.

“It is a name that has been chosen based upon its capacity to maintain accountability, vulnerability, responsiveness, and to ensure that we continue to become a more welcoming and daring cultural institution into the future,” the institution said.