Completed event: Who Owns Heritage? on 5 November 2019 at the National Archives, The Hague

The participants say they enjoyed the well attended event

The Netherlands-Sri Lanka (Ceylon) Foundation held  an event titled “Who Owns Heritage?” on  5 November 2019  (with network reception) at the National Archives of the Netherlands (Mullerzaal), The Hague.

More the 45 participants from various sectors attended the session.
There were 6 interesting and informative presentations covering a wide but inter-connected range of topics from cultural objects, the question of restitution and the legal aspects of the sensitive subject of where certain cultural objects belong.
The presentations were followed by a discussion and suggestions on how the theme of “restitution” could be addressed. The session closed with a networking reception.

The foundation is exploring the theme “the business of heritage” and the
5th November session “who owns heritage?” was the 1st event.
It is anticipated that more such events will be organized in future.

The speakers who professionally set the scene for discussion and reflection were:

(1) The current debate about restitution of cultural objects from colonial contexts.
Dr. Jos van Beurden
, Affiliated Researcher, Free University Amsterdam.

Jos provided an extensive and very informative overview of the historical and current status of the subject of restitution of cultural objects. Also shared examples of international restitution projects while making suggestions on how this politically sensitive topic could be managed.

(2) The story of a blue cannon from Kandy
Martine Gosselink,
Head of Department of History, Rijksmuseum.

Martine delighted the audience with a fascinating history and story about the “blue cannon of Kandy” that is now at the Rijks. The provenance of this cannon will be  studied further. It is hoped that a better understanding of the provenance of objects like this cannon could be a sensible starting point to explore where such cultural objects belong.

(3) Shared Heritage: Sri Lanka and The Netherlands.
Dr. Sanuja Kasthuriarachchi
, Director General, Department of National Museums, Sri Lanka

Sanuja updated the audience on the plans and the progress being made with the renovations of the “Dutch Period Museum” in Colombo. She also reflected on what shared heritage could mean. She invited the audience to support the Dutch Period Museum in Colombo.

(4)  Heritage only for a select group ?
Drs. Peter van der Lende,
Labrys Reizen B.V. (Cultural tours).

Cultural and heritage related tourism seems to be on the increase. The question is also if these locations are able to manage the influx of large numbers of tourists, who sometimes are cause of concern. So the question of “culture for everyone”, according to Peter, needs some consideration.
Peter provided several examples of cultural tours and their impact.

(5) The return of objects during British colonial rule: the story of a skull and a throne
Prof. dr.  N.K. Wickramasinghe, Professor of Modern South Asian Studies| |Academic Director | Leiden University Institute for Area Studies.

The question of cultural objects and image formation was a theme of  Nira in her presentation.  She provided an interesting example of a  Sri Lankan case during the British colonial period.

(6)  Restitution of looted art?
Paul Russell,
Senior Partner at Russell Advocaten B.V. (expert in art & law), former Senator in the Dutch Senate.

Paul as an international expert on matters of restitution focused on legal aspects of restitution of cultural objects. He was provocative in asking the audience “what they would do under such circumstances?”.  He reminded the audience that in the Netherlands there is 20 year period for claims. This means  any potential claims for objects beyond that period stand very little chance from a legal perspective. This means the restitution becomes a “moral issue”.  How to deal with it remains a subject for further debate and reflection, also for Sri Lanka.

The current international cultural policies (2017-2020) of the Netherlands are based on concepts such as shared heritage and mutual image formation. They remain relevant and actual even today. The future policies – Culture for Everyone – spanning the period 2021-2024 are taking shape now and are to be presented to the Dutch parliament in the autumn of 2019. The Netherlands Sri Lanka Foundation is hoping to participate in and contributing, in a modest way, towards materializing the international cultural vision and achieving the policy objectives. The event is one of the activities of the foundation to strengthen the international cultural exchange and the profile of the Netherlands in Sri Lanka and vice versa. Also to consider how to build awareness of a shared heritage between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands i.e. also contribute towards mutual image formation.

We anticipate that the event could encourage academics participating to explore possibilities of new projects and collaborations/networks.
While the Netherlands-Sri Lanka foundation and the “practitioners” would reflect on possibilities of putting theory to practice.

In you need further information please get in touch by sending an email to: or

On behalf of the organizing team (Prof. Georg Frerks, Prof. Remco Raben and Dr. Lodewijk Wagenaar)

Dilip Tambyrajah
Board Member
Netherlands Sri Lanka (Ceylon) Foundation

T: +31 79 316 9531