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Rivers, Reckonings, and Reclamations


For her latest exhibition “When Our Rivers Meet,” New York Historical Society artist-in-residence Beatrice Glow reckons with the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam upon the lands of the Lenape Peoples, while also linking this to the broader global colonial legacies of the Netherlands. The California-born artist’s own roots—which, on her maternal side, trace back 25 generations to Sandimen (home to Indigenous peoples including the Paiwan and Rukai) in southern Taiwan—are tied to that legacy, the island having once been a colony of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company), known as Dutch Formosa. Glow’s practice prioritizes a commitment to centering and amplifying Indigenous voices through direct consultation and community collaboration while rejecting complicity with the settler colonial state. This project is just the latest in a career-spanning arc of such endeavors, which have produced not only groundbreaking research but also exquisite objects through which to contemplate the often-ugly histories of empires.

Cristina Verán recently spoke with Glow and one of her key collaborators, Brent Stonefish (Lunaapeew, Turtle Clan, Eelŭnaapéewi-Lahkéewiit), about this project. "When Our Rivers Meet” is on view through August 18, 2024.

CV: Beatrice, what sparked your interest in Dutch colonial histories, and what was the genesis of this exhibition and your collaborative approach to its creation?

Beatrice Glow: As a kid, I had heard about something called the Pax Hollandica—a term that translates as “Dutch Peace.” What I also learned is that what it really describes is not a “peace” at all, but rather, the subjugation of an uprising of the Mattau and other Indigenous Peoples in Southern Taiwan by the Dutch. What irony, using warfare to coerce peace!

For this exhibition, I wanted to envision the Dutch colonial era [of what is now New York City] from a different timeline, starting with a Lenape perspective. I wondered, what if Europeans’ relationship with Indigenous Peoples here had been one of reciprocity instead of conflict, working with the natural world instead of trying to dominate it?

I knew I shouldn't be the sole creative interpreter for this, though, and so I invited culture-bearers like Brent Stonefish to contribute their deep knowledge on things like cultural revitalization and stewardship. He and I had met back in 2016 through “Manahatta VR”, my interactive virtual reality new media project at New York University’s Asian/ Pacific/ American Institute.

CV: Brent, what made you interested in this project, working with Beatrice? Also, how did you approach reckoning with the histories and expectations of your own community, as well as those of a non-Indigenous institution?

BS: Beatrice wanted to do this in the right way, as allies coming together, to tell a story together—not through a western lens, like the majority of things presented about our people have been. That’s why I agreed to work with her.

For my people, having a voice in this city is crucial. This is our homeland; the histories about it have been passed down through families and what our Elders taught us. My uncle, Darryl Stonefish, has talked about how before we actually met the Dutch, we knew they were coming. Our prophecies told us of “the salty people” who would come over the salt waters. The Dutch were very sick when they arrived, and our ancestors helped them to survive, to know what they could eat, what would kill or not kill them, etc. Without this assistance, New Amsterdam couldn’t even have happened. But in return, many Lenape were taken away, sent to the Netherlands, or even sold across the world—from the islands of the Caribbean to the Russian Empire.

Oral histories aren’t typically valued the same way as written documents are in western institutions, and in addition to being a culture-bearer for my people—who have been taught to validate those other ways even over our own—I do also have an academic background; a Master’s degree from York University in Toronto.

L-R: Brent Stonefish and Beatrice Glow, seated, with collaborator Deborah Jack, and at the podium, collaborator Chief
Vincent Mann (Turtle Clan, Ramapough Lunaape Nation), who gave the blessing for the exhibition’s opening night.


CV: One wall of the exhibition features the series of works grouped as “A Parade for All,” a response, if you will, to a much earlier parade staged during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909 (celebrating explorer Henry Hudson and steamboat inventor Robert Fulton). How did you come to know of this long-forgotten event, and what can you tell us about it?

BG: I’d found an original program for it in the New York Historical Society archives. As a kind of imperialist didactic-theater extravaganza, it featured fireworks displays, a replica of explorer Henry Hudson’s ship The Half Moon sailing down the river and, for its main attraction, a huge parade featuring 54 floats, intended as a means with which to teach new immigrants about American history through four periods: Indian, Dutch, English, and U.S. modern. Quite an extravagant affair.

BS: It was intended to represent narratives of both discovery and technological progress. The floats that were supposed to represent “Indians of North America” in it were comical—like they’d listed every Indian stereotype and just checked off each box; click, click, click, click.

BG: This inspired me to think of a sort of alternative commemoration; creating our own floats that would respond to those in that original parade.

CV: Your collaborative piece, “Sigillum Manahahtáanung" (Law of the Place Where We Gather Hickory Wood to Make Bows), features a reimagined official seal of New York. What specific elements of the original did you feel needed revising?

BS: We wanted to turn it upside down, and so for one thing, we replaced the male figures (a Dutch merchant and a Lenape man holding a bow and arrow) with female ones, emphasizing matrilineal societies. We also added the tree of life to it; things that should have been there in the first place.

BG: The city now sits on top of a turtle, being supported by a bow and arrow. 

BS: Manhattan is like a baby turtle; separate from the rest of Turtle Island but right by its side, like one of its babies.

CV: What other elements did you find important to include?

BG: There is a beaver, an animal that was so important to, and exploited by, the Dutch West India Company. When you look at paintings by the Dutch artist Vermeer, which often show people with fancy fur hats, that’s actually beaver fur from Lenapehoking (Lenape homelands.) 

And also there are quahogs, where wampum comes from. Lenape Peoples were known for having big parties in the summer, eating lots of these—the shells from which were used to create their shell middens and mounds. These shells were extracted by the colonists to build many of the early limestone buildings of this city.

BS: We, as Lenape, make wampum shells into beads and use them in a lot of different things, both spiritual and everyday material objects. In our culture, their colors, purple and white, have deep significance. For example, if the majority of a wampum belt (used to mark agreements between peoples) is purple, that speaks about a dark time. But if it is white, then it talks about peacetime.

CV: Beatrice, you also produced an accompanying series of medals on display as part of the exhibition. What are they intended to represent and/or respond to?

BG: Medals were often presented in relation to treaties signed between Indigenous leaders and colonial governments. In North America, their designs would often include peace pipes and tomahawks, as though to symbolize some “moment of truth”—even though the treaties they were intended to honor would always be broken.

It's worth noting, too, that the actual metal that those medals were made of would have likely been mined by colonial enterprises on Native lands.


Beatrice Glow, "Pax Hollandica," 2022. VR-sculpted photopolymer 3D print, metallic paint, enamel coating, chains. Photo courtesy
of Beatrice Glow.

CV: You regularly incorporate new technologies in the development and production of your art. Take us through that process here.

BG: For each piece, I began by working out several versions in VR sculpting, which allows me, while wearing a goggle headset and using two controllers, to play with “digital clay” I can virtually mold, sand, and paint with digital tools. I can make the virtual object really large to play with its scale and detail with a lot of care. For example, when creating a face, I can represent its features with great accuracy. From this, I create a 3-D model that can then be printed into a physical object—which, in final form in this case, comprised materials like photopolymer and polylactic acid, metal leaf, acrylic paint, wood, steel rods, and enamel. Or, it can even be brought into video work, such as this exhibition’s virtual reality reconstruction of a book that comes to life as the viewer becomes a bird flying through Manhattan, traveling through time.

CV: "When Our Rivers Meet" includes additional collaborators as well; both Indigenous to this region and from far-away lands once also subject to the Dutch colonial enterprise. Why was this important for you? Please tell us a bit about each collaboration and those we should acknowledge accordingly.

BG: I’m concerned with how we can reckon with colonial violence, not only here, but around the world through survivance and building new kinships, solidarities, and alliances. 

My other collaborators include Chief Vincent Mann and Michaeline Picaro Mann (Ramapough Lunaape) for the piece called “We Are Still Here,” which refutes the pernicious myth of the “Vanishing Indian,” originating in the early 19th century, to characterize Native people as disappearing or extinct and has long served to rationalize policies of Native removal and assimilation.

Tecumseh Ceasar (Matinecock and Unkechaug) and I made “Revolutions to Love Our More-Than-Human-Relatives,” a carousel that questions the ways in which animals have been treated by the European-imposed order, in contrast to the teachings of his community, which sees them as equal to or elevated above humans.

“Gilded Embers, Salted Entanglements,” the piece made with Deborah Jack, of St. Maarten heritage, is about salt extraction in the Dutch Caribbean and its use of enslaved labor, using salt here as a metaphor for the bodies of African peoples who perished in the Atlantic enroute to these colonies.

“All Islands Connect Underwater” was created with Netherlands- based scholars Wim Manuhutu and Nancy Jouwe, whose families trace back to Maluku and West Papua in the former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). It considers ships as vehicles of trade, warfare, and ceremony, while resurfacing historic links between Dutch New York and the Indonesian archipelago that persist, for example, in Bandanese cultural memory.

Also, Afro-Indigenous genealogist Teresa Vega contributed “Riding with My Ancestors While We Spill the Tea,” which depicts a “ride of a lifetime” in a stagecoach with three generations of ancestors from the Netherlands, Angola, and Indigenous Munsee Lenape Peoples.

And the piece made with Surinamese-Dutch artist Raul Balau, “From Ports to Ports (the Many Lineages of Anthony Van Salee and Juan Rodriguez,” imagines a kind of portal between New York and Amsterdam. While bearing the coats of arms of powerful (white) Dutch families along with the Dutch-inflected seals of New York’s boroughs, it depicts the city’s multiracial founding fathers, Anthony Van Salee (of Moorish-Dutch ancestry) and Juan Rodriguez (of Portuguese and African descent, born in Santo Domingo) to greet the present. 

I also want to acknowledge Rebecca Klassen, Curator of Material Culture at the New York Historical Society, for always being very interested in including contemporary artists with diverse perspectives to broaden the interpretation of their massive and remarkable collection.

Cristina Verán is an international Indigenous Peoples focused researcher, educator, strategist, curator, and media-maker. As adjunct faculty at New York University Tisch School of Arts, she brings emphasis to Indigenous popular music, visual and performing arts, and socio-political movements.

All photos by Cristina Verán. 

Top photo: The main piece Beatrice Glow and Brent Stonefish produced together.

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