Dutch history in New York
2 years ago I started to examine the remnants of Dutch identity in New York. This research I’ve started several weeks months ago after visiting New York City for the first time. I have been back in the city a lot and have visit potential places to make casts. By molding the Dutch 'leftovers' I will give a new perspective the history of New York and the Netherlands. My work brings the viewer to a new place with the consideration of the past.
While researching Dutch roots in the history of New York City, Koster found many striking links and proud moments in its shared history. However, she also uncovered many shadows and undertones, which are frequently dismissed, not addressed, or simply ignored. For example, the Dutch settlement of 'New Amsterdam' was built on trade. One of the largest trades at the time was the enslavement of African people. This discovery led her to search for remnants of this history and brought her to such places as the relatively recent discovery of the African American Burial grounds near City Hall (in 1993) amongst seven additional plots around the city. These cemeteries had been forgotten, which motivated Koster to raise awareness for this often lost past and bring honor to the deceased through recognition.
The Dutch are pretty proud of founding New York. In 2009, the Netherlands and New York celebrated their 400-year history with myriad events, festivals, and parties. Wherever possible, organizers emphasized shared values like freedom, tolerance, and equal opportunity – values the Netherlands is often given credit for coming up with.But the story has a dark side that’s often overlooked. In the colony called New Amsterdam, the Dutch kept slaves from day one. Nowadays there are still a number burial plots in the city. People walk over these streets every day without noticing what is lying underneath.
The Dutch should recognize that the country has left behind a clear legacy of slavery – part of it in New York, that city we so love to brag about. As a Dutch woman I did not want to work with the history of Dutch NYC before mentioning this story that deeply touched me.
Molded from the fingers of the descendants of African American slaves, I have created a work in remembrance of their ancestors. Stretching the full length of the gallery, the rug-like panel consists of cast rubber fingers reaching out, giving the appearance of coming out of the ground, and thereby calling attention to their burial plots. In this way, I aim to recognize our mutual past and remember those who have gone before us. I hope this work will be placed at the burial plots in NYC and that we finally recognize these places how they should be recognized.
Both Louky and Bart from LMAKgallery and me tried to reach out and see if we could cast may people for this project. Meeting June Terry was very special to me. This 86 year old woman that is still full of energy and designs here own clothing told me a lot of stories about her past and the past of her ancestors. She explained to me the word Sankofa. Which is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as "Go back and get it" and also refers to the Asante Adinka symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards carrying a precious egg in its mouth. Sankofa is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates as: "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." The sankofa bird appears frequently in traditional Akan art, and has also been adopted as an important symbol in an African-American and African Diaspora context to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.