5 min video excerpt
RHUNHATTAN explores a pivotal moment in world history: the trade of Manhattan island ignited by a tiny seed. In 1667, the world map was redrawn when the Dutch traded the island of Manhattan for the English colony of Rhun, in Indonesia’s Banda Island Archipelago, in an attempt to corner the nutmeg trade. This momentous land exchange, over spices, precipitated change that set in motion unstoppable waves of displacements, migrations, and laid the ground for economic systems that shape our lives to this day.
RHUNHATTAN began in 2015 as an educative project that developed out of research into food-ways, plant based histories, travel and international commerce. Working backwards, told through the voices of locals and seen through the landscape of what exists today, we uncover buried stories of European colonial expansion, trade and the making of globalization, as well as the unheard voices of the Indigenous peoples who saw a New World created where they stood.
RHUNHATTAN is a tale of two islands told through immersive platforms including virtual reality, olfactory sculptural installations, and site-responsive performances enhanced by augmented reality, to explore these intertwined geopolitical fates and globalization’s wheel of fortune.
Installation with acrylic painting and decal collage on ceramics, ink on paper, scent. Dimensions variable.
Installation view at Sunroom Project Space, Wave Hill, Bronx, NY
This installation was a sensory feast of sight and smell referencing 17th century Spice Wars whe. Botanical, cartographic, and archival imagery depicting colonial atrocities were embedded into tableware that mimicked Delftware—blue-and-white pottery made in the Netherlands that were influenced by the importation of luxurious Chinese porcelain during the Age of Discovery. This reappropriation of chinoiserie reveals complex underpinnings of trade. Golden nutmeg-like forms exuded scents of colonial commerce.
The work was created through a research into archival images of colonial architecture and Spice War atrocities. Terracotta objects shaped like nutmegs were scented with peppery notes inspired by colonial commerce. Below the vitrines are cartographic ink drawings of Rhun and Manhattan. These plates depict a ripe nutmeg still enveloped in mace, its "placenta." The border of the plates depict volcanic imageries as first seen by Dutch traders when approaching the islands.
Acrylic painting and decal collage on found teapot
8 in. x 4 in. x 4 in.
The teapot has two sides whose center images are of Dutch East India Company traders massacring Bandanese Islanders and Dutch soldiers torturing English merchants in the Spice Islands during the Amboyna Massacre. The all over pattern are drawings of mace, which is the placenta of nutmeg.
Installation view at Mall Sala Vespucio as part of the Museo Sin Muros initiative of Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Chile, Santiago de Chile
As shopping malls are the new cultural centers, Beatrice Glow created a fake perfume boutique in a shopping mall that revealed how plants shaped world history by connecting the founding myths of the Americas to the search for spices. The portmanteau Aromérica is a combination of "aroma" and "America," thus highlighting that the foundation of the Americas is based in the search for spices.
In the exhibition, an aromatic archive included “eau de Colón” (Cologne) which is a play on the Spanish pronunciation of Columbus; “Blanc Le Colonial” (Colonial White) was nauseatingly sugary; “El Picante” (The Spicy) references “El Dorado” and shocked with sharp notes of nutmegs and cloves; and “Oro Negro” (Black Gold) was Malabar pepper. The project equated conquistadores to spice hunters and underlined a parallel between how the imaginary, systemic violence and smell are invisible yet omnipresent.
Digital print on silk, 54 in. x 54 in.
Site-specific installation at the James B. Duke House for Spice Roots/Routes (On view March 21-October 27, 2017)
Tobacco is part of Spice Roots/Routes series of digital prints on silk that each highlight a plant that was intertwined with the histories of colonial mercantilism. In this piece, slave ships take the place of tobacco leaves and pin-up women blow smoke onto the tobacco flower.
Trade routes like the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade ferried spices, silks, and other luxury goods from China and the Philippines to Spain via Mexico. Polygenetic objects like the manton de Manila, an embroidered silk shawl made in China and the Philippines that became a fashion staple among wealthy women in South America and Spain, expose these networks of influence. Glow’s Spice Route series takes compositional cues from popular manton de Manila embroidery patterns, navigating between and beyond individual cultural traditions.
In 1890, the pursuit of intoxicating aromatic plants produced another kind of empire: the American Tobacco Company. James B. Duke’s tobacco conglomerate dominated the American market and worked extensively with distributors in the United Kingdom and East Asia before being ordered by the Supreme Court to dissolve in 1911, having run afoul of the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1909, Duke and his wife, Nanaline, commissioned the architect Horace Trumbauer to design a mansion on New York's Fifth Avenue. Financed by the proceeds of the lucrative tobacco trade, the Duke House was an especially fitting site for Glow’s work, a meditation on the intersection of luxury, intoxication, and commerce.
Intervention and Symposium
James B. Duke House / Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
As part of the site-specific installation Spice Roots/Routes, artist Beatrice Glow organized a symposium "Empire of Smoke: The Legacy of Tobacco" that addressed the layered history of the Duke House, a mansion on millionaire row built with the finances gained from the American Tobacco Company. Shown here is Lenape elder George Stonefish who was invited to intervene in the institutional history of the Duke House by smudging the mansion and event attendees with tobacco and sage to acknowledge the institutional ties to tobacco.
October 10 (Indigenous Peoples' Day) - December 9, 2016
Street level window installation with a lightbox, video and window vinyls
20 ft. x 12 ft.
Lenapeway was a street-level installation that realigns the spine of New York – Broadway – with its Indigenous heritage given it was, and continues to be, part of a matrix of Indigenous pathways that connected Manhattan to the Greater Northeast Region of North America.
The windows features life-sized images of majestic mùxulhemënshi, the Lenape name for tulip trees (liriodendron tulipifera), which were fashioned into the dugout canoes that Lenape used to meet, negotiate, and trade along coastal rivers and waters. Also featured is a digital reconstruction of pre-colonial Manaháhtaan created by the Mannahatta Project, led by Bronx Zoo’s Wildlife Conservation Society ecologist Eric Sanderson. This reconstruction outlines the extensive network of trails that exemplify how the Lenape people sustainably managed the land prior to colonization. By revealing the original map of the region, Lenapeway aims to encourage present-day New Yorkers to imagine themselves along the Lenape trail while spurring a new consciousness of the land.
This project was created by artist Beatrice Glow and The Wayfinding Project at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU. To enrich the installation, Glow and The Wayfinding Project partnered with NYU Grounds Manager George Reis to create an hour-long tour of NYU’s native plant gardens.
Documentation of virtual reality experience in the HTC Vive VR headset
This is an exploratory and interactive virtual reality experience as well as immersive oral history archive that brings together the past and present of one block of Broadway given Broadway is part of a matrix of Indigenous Lenape trails. This is developed through consultation with Lenape peoples, ecologists, educators and technologists. We ask ourselves how can we expand knowledge of Indigenous Manhattan? What does a sustainable Indigenous future look like? This is a collaboration between artist Beatrice Glow, technologist Alexandre Girardeau, The Wayfinding Project and the A/P/A Institute at NYU.
Many thanks to Chief Vincent Mann, Turtle Clan Chief, Ramapough Luunape Nation for allowing us to 3D scan him for this project.
September 6-October 3, 2014
Social Sculpture aboard the Lilac Museum Steamship berthed at Pier 25, Hudson River Park, New York, NY
Floating Library was a one-month temporary autonomous zone aboard a steamship. Art installations, books, and manifestoes were on view. Over seventy volunteers, artists, visionaries and 4,000 visitors convened around roundtables and workshops that shone a spotlight on reclaiming public space, environmental concerns, and community engagement. Set under open skies for fearless dreaming, the main deck became a reading lounge with shelves and seating made from pallets. Art installations, books, artist publications, and manifestoes were on view. A Floating Library highlight event was “We All Live Downstream,” a participatory voyage initiated by Mare Liberum and 350.org that disembarked onboard after three-weeks traveling on paper boats to network climate change activists. The project culminated with a visit from South Bronx high school students that received the gift of reading.
I retraced the geography of nineteenth-century Chinese coolie labor in Peru for two years. En route I resurrected memories from cemeteries, guano mines on the Chincha Islands, coastal sugar and rice plantations, railroads that led into the Andes, and followed the escape route of two coolies by canoe to El Chino in the Amazonian Rainforest, where no Chinese live.
I conducted oral history interviews with Chinese-Peruvian elders. In this photo, Iquitos-based Isabel Shashui de Liao and her husband Jorge Liao Estrella whose Chinese father almost sent him to China to train as a suicide pilot. Other stories I documented include Alfonso Shiokey Leon Jho recounting the horror of Chinese workers getting stirred alive into boiling animal fat in a soap factory, Marco Farfán revealing a Chinese grandmother in his Afro-Peruvian lineage, to Señor Antonio Ching-Wong entrusting me to locate his uncle’s grave.
In the spirit of migration, I condensed the experience into an itinerant museum that traveled to various South American cultural and educational institutions featuring an archive of objects and papers collected from the journey. Through the format of a performance lecture and trilingual (Spanish, English, Chinese) artist book Taparaco Myth, I delve into the historical realities of Asian migration to Peru.
The production was made possible with the support of the Fulbright Commission, Colectivo Zoom and Vasco Pimentel