Photos of Keti Koti, the Dutch Celebration of Freedom

Keti Koti in Holland
© Lucia Borraccino


Each year, Keti Koti commemorates the abolition of slavery through colourful parades, clothing and flags. We caught up with Lucia Borracino to talk about her photos from the annual celebration.

Lucia Borraccino began pursuing photography during her A Level studies, a time before the digital format was released. In the days when analogue photography was the only format available, Borraccino would process black and white photographs in a dark room at her college: a quiet space that allowed her to finesse her skills and find privacy away from the world. After her A Levels, at age 17, she moved to Italy and worked as a colourist with her uncle, who owned a film and camera shop.

Since, Borracino has branched out into various forms of content creation outside of photography, working as a writer and – in the industry of wellness and fitness – a yoga instructor too. As a photographer, she's documented cultural celebrations. One, in particular, is Keti Koti: an annual event in the Netherlands that commemorates the abolition of slavery in 1863. The name Keti Koti translates to 'broken chains' and each year, the celebration is one of freedom, filled with colourful costumes, flags and a parade.

As one of the most important celebrations on the Dutch calendar, we caught up with Borracino to discuss the way she's been capturing it and why it's an annual event that continues to be the focus of her images. Below, we talk her photography practice and memorable moments from Keti Koti.

Keti Koti in Holland
Keti Koti in Holland

This isn’t the first time you’ve been to Keti Koti. When was your first time, and why are you returning to photograph it?

The first year I went to Keti Koti celebrations was in 2019 and it felt like home. I grew up in east London surrounded by West African churches and on Sundays I would see the most beautiful clothing. The actual event where I took the photos is called Bigi Spikri which means ‘big mirror’. During the time of slavery of the Suriname people by the Dutch they were forbidden to wear their colourful clothing, so this event is a form of protest and a celebration to recognise this past. Keti Koti is the day itself to mark the abolition of slavery. The main event is a parade which ends in Oosterpark on the east side of Amsterdam where there are stalls and music playing until the evening. I was also living in the east at the time so it was great to have this so close to home.

How would you describe your experiences at Keti Koti? What’s the atmosphere like on the grounds?

Due to the pandemic, Keti Koti was not on for two years, so when it came back in 2022 it was very welcome! I love the family-friendly atmosphere and the events leading up to it. Living in Holland, life can be grey and cold so the fine clothing and big smiles really shined even when it rained. However, I did think at the main event in Oosterpark that the heavy police presence was totally unnecessary and quite telling about how the event is represented in the city.

Do you have any spots or cultural recommendations in the area that you tend to visit around the event?

The day is also about having your fill of Suriname food. I can highly recommend Roopram Roti on Eerste Van Swindenstraat or Ricardos on Javastraat, but the best food I always had was in friends' parents' houses.

Keti Koti in Holland
Keti Koti in Holland
Keti Koti in Holland
Keti Koti in Holland

Do you have a personal connection to the event?

Only via my friends who are Dutch and of Suriname heritage.

How do you prefer to shoot at Keti Koti?

Colour film and short videos to get the full flavour of the day.

Can you walk us through a particularly memorable moment?

I don't mean to sound cheesy but the whole day is pretty memorable. Meeting the team behind The Black Archives where I learnt that the date celebrated is actually incorrect. The slaves were liberated in 1863 yet they still had to work another 10 years. When the slaves were finally freed in 1873 it was the slave owners who received compensation from the Dutch government, not the slaves themselves. Therefore this year was the 150th anniversary, not the 160th as is claimed by the media.

What’s been your favourite or most interesting encounter at Keti Koti?

I met an organisation of Surinamese women who were providing literature about their history based in an area called Bijlmer the ‘Bims’ where many families of Suriname origin are living. They have a community space where people could get together to cook and sew. At the event in Oosterpark they had a book stall selling books about Dutch history and its colonial past. They had lots of childrens books to try and get the conversation started in schools where it is sadly missing from the curriculum.

What’re your thoughts on the celebration itself and the environment surrounding it? Why is Keti Koti still so important to this day?

I think Holland has history rooted in racism where the pain of its colonial past can be felt and seen to this day. The celebration of Zwarte Piet in December contradicts any attempt at celebrating the emancipation of slavery. Holland has a monarchy who became very rich and their wealth can be easily traced to slavery. This year there have been protests and movements to request a day off in schools to reflect on this past as an important point to note in history. The Dutch king made an appearance to apologise for the role the Dutch had in slavery. The next step would be reparations with the many descendants of slaves living in Holland today.

Photography by Lucia Borraccino