Impossible Journeys in Moscow

In 1676 a book with the intriguing title ‘Three exceptional and very catastrophic journeys’ was published in Amsterdam. The author of this bundle of travel stories Jan Janszoon Struys had travelled for twenty five years in the East. He had been hired as a sailmaker by the Russian tsar in 1668 to contribute to the development of the Russian fleet. Instead of that, he found himself in the middle of a civil war and was forced to move in the direction of Persia to escape riots, local conflicts, battles, sieges, murders, tortures, shipwrecks and earthquakes. Struys was even enslaved and later ransomed. During this disastrous journey Jan made many notes which are now seen as very rare first-hand description of daily life in Russia and Persia in the 17th century.

What happened to Struys in the 17th century is as meaningful for the society of his time as it is for today’s society and so the book was republished in 2006 in Russia, in 2014 The Netherlands and in 2017 in Iran. It triggers our thinking about the complex political, social and cultural perspectives on different cultural realms and the various conflicts that characterise the relationships between Russia, Iran, and The Netherlands.

H401 has received funding from a.o. Dutch culture to support curator Irina Leifer to develop an exhibition that would work with the story of Struys and related historic objects. She invited visuals artists from the Netherlands (Paulien Oltheten and Cecilia Hendrikx), Russia (Oleg Elagin and Oksana Stogova) and Iran (Sepideh Behruzian en Zeinab Shahidi Marnani) to produce new work that challenges the limitations of our cross-cultural and transhistoric perspectives. In collaboration with citizens, Irina Leifer, has done research in libraries, archives and museum collections about our shared heritage and historic objects that form the backbone of the exhibition.

This project is also part of H401 EU funded project Heritage Contact Zone.

The exhibition has been shown in Amsterdam (NL), Isfahan (IR) and Samara (RU) and is currently on show at its final destination: the Museum of Moscow, 31 January – 29 March 2020

If you are interested in the booklet of the exhibition with an essay by Kees Boterlbloem, please pick up a copy at H401 during office hours.

Here are some impressions from the opening of the exhibition in the Museum of Moscow:


We are grateful for the financial support by

Dutch Culture Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund; Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Moscow, Russia; Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Teheran, Iran; European Cultural Foundation and Compagnia di San Paolo; The Creative Europe Programme of the Eiuropean Comission; Mondriaan Fund; Prince Claus Fund’s Mobility Fund; Roberto Cimetta Fund; Stichting Gerbrandy Cultuurfonds; Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie; Wilhelmina E. Jansenfonds