Denmark’s national gallery removes the word ‘neger’ from artwork

June 7th, 2016

This article is more than 7 years old.

‘Neutral’ words to replace offensive terms at SMK

Offensive descriptions will be removed from paintings like this one by Karel van Mander III (photo: NMK)

Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK), the national gallery, is changing the titles and descriptions of works that use words like ‘neger’ and ‘Hottentot’.

The 14 affected pieces include works by Christian IV’s court painter, the Dutch artist Karel van Mander III, and a painting by Nicolai Abildgaard.

“We have adjusted our database to search for words that are considered offensive and outdated today,” Peter Nørgaard Larsen, an assembly and research director at SMK, told Politiken.

“We found the word ‘neger’ 13 times, and we found one use of the word ‘Hottentot’. They have been amended to ‘Africans’.”

The purpose of the changes is to avoid words that are a legacy of the colonial era, which Europeans used to describe other ethnic groups.

‘Losing history’
Most of Larsen’s museum colleagues in Denmark agree with the changes, so long as the history of the old words is retained. Larsen stressed that the museum will keep the old designations on file.

READ MORE: Every fourth Dane prefers the word ‘Neger’

There is disagreement, however, when it comes to a piece’s original title. Nationalmuseet, the national museum in Copenhagen, believes that original titles should be maintained, even if they contain offensive words.

“The word ‘neger’ represents an inequality between people that is a part of history,” said Camilla Mordhorst, a spokesperson for the museum. “We need to maintain it, even if we don’t like it. Fix it, and you risk losing history.”


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