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No controversy over hundreds of Koran posters

14 March 2008 - The Netherlands is suffering from Koran fever, but Amsterdam seems not to be affected. The Tropenmuseum has put up some two hundred posters of an Iranian Koran throughout the city, as part of an image campaign. There has been hardly any response.

The Netherlands is in commotion because of the plans of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders to show a movie about the ‘Fascist’ Koran. That the Koran posters of the Tropenmuseum appeared during this controversy is a coincidence, for the posters were planned months ago.

Still, previous attacks on the Koran did play a role in the decision to choose this subject for the posters. “We wanted to show what kind of book it is”, says Dimitry van den Berg, the person at the museum who is responsible for the campaign. “But the most important reason to show this Koran was simply that it’s a very beautiful object”.

Van den Berg had expected that the Koran posters would elicit responses, but this was hardly the case. “Maybe a few people asked how to obtain the poster, but not more than usual”. Also, there are no indications that the posters have provoked more vandalism than usual. Some asked whether the man on the poster represents Muhammad, but that is not the case.

The campaign targets the so-called ‘cosmopolitans’ as defined by the Motivaction agency: people with an international orientation, often high-educated and with an interest in culture.

Previous analyses had revealed that the visitors of the museum mainly consist of cosmopolitans, post-materialists (idealists who vote Green Party) and post-modern hedonists (focusing more on experiences). Especially among cosmopolitans new visitors might be recruited, it was thought.

However, this did require some work on the museum’s image. Some people still associate the Tropenmuseum with colonialism, a stuffy Third World centre or educational activities for children, Van den Berg says. The current campaign intends to show that the museum has beautiful objects that have an interesting story to tell.

All posters show an authentic object against the background of a story painted by a contemporary artist. In the case of the Koran, the painting shows a man who consults a Mullah on which woman to choose. The Mullah reads the Koran and concludes that the woman on the right is the right one for him.

On the occasion of exhibitions on Morocco and Turkey, the Nieuwe Kerk organised activities to attract ethnic minority visitors. The Tropenmuseum does not engage in ethnomarketing, says Van den Berg. “We try to select themes that appeal to all Dutch people, including the new Dutch”.

The campaign will run until the end of this year. By then it will be evaluated whether the image of the museum has in fact changed.

Tropenmuseum. Photo: Koran poster against the background of the Tropeninstituut


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