Permanent exhibition

What's the Story

Go on a speed date with the Tropenmuseum. The 'What's the Story' exhibition tells you all about  the museum's colonial past, its world famous collection and the architecture of its building.

The Tropenmuseum is in a state of flux and change, as is society. In the old days, the museum was meant to convey our colonial glory. Nowadays, the museum shows the historical collection from different perspectives. In doing so, it invites reflection and social discussion. 

Profile of the collection

This exhibition offers an accessible insight into how the collection originated and developed. Get to know the story of the Tropenmuseum’s colonial origins and its contemporary significance as told by various objects from the collection, a scale model of the museum and an illuminating Q&A.

150 years of museum history

Let us take you on a whistle-stop tour through almost one and a half centuries of museum history: a history that reflects a changing vision of the museum’s function, its collection and its exhibitions in the light of its colonial past and the world today.

Image of the scale model of the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

This is a scale model of the Tropenmuseum and the KIT (the Royal Institute for the Tropics), both of which stem from the Colonial Institute that was founded around a century ago. Miniature slide shows in the model recount the history of the institute and explain the colonial symbolism behind the many works of art adorning the building.


Museums are still wont to present clothes as costume or national dress. This makes the clothing seem traditional and unchanging. Western clothing, on the other hand, is perceived as changing rapidly and trend-sensitive, or in other words, as fashion. The Tropenmuseum has started to look at its world-famous textile collection through different eyes. It is a challenging question: What makes clothing fashion? 


Fashion is an accessible way to demonstrate how globalisation works, how cultures influence each other, and how cultural appropriation takes place. The outfit from the popular Amsterdam brand Daily Paper, for instance, has clearly been inspired by global streetwear and Arab shapes and texts.  

Collecting Worldwide

A dance ornament from Suriname, a netsuke from Japan, a Koran from Indonesia: the Tropenmuseum collects objects from cultures from all over the world. Why? Because such a collection introduces us to the many facets of humankind as a whole. Themes such as religion, daily life, arts and crafts take centre stage. 

Frequently asked questions

The museum has acquired objects through  various means. Some were bought, others were donated, and sometimes stolen. All within the context of colonial oppression, trade, military actions, scientific projects, and missionary work.  


A large part of our collection came together in the colonial period. As far as the Tropenmuseum is concerned, objects that were not surrendered voluntarily, or that have greater cultural value in the country of origin, are eligible for return.  

Has everything we see here been stolen from other countries?  

The balance of power between Europeans and non-Europeans was off, especially in the colonies. That does not mean that all trade was unfair, though. From the moment museums began collecting items, for instance, tourist art came into existence and people started trading objects produced especially for the European market. This means that individual transactions need to be examined carefully before reaching conclusions.  

Was the trade fair?

On occasion we do sell items from the collection, adhering strictly to the relevant national and international policies. We have worked with the government and the museum sector to determine these policies to ensure that de-accessioning is only concluded in exceptional cases and in a proper manner. The proceeds always go towards the purchase of new items for the collection. 

Do you ever sell items from the collection?