This March, the contemporary art exhibition Wampum World: An Art Installation by Renée Ridgway opens at the Albany Institute of History & Art in Albany, New York. This multimedia exhibition is an artist’s interpretation of the changing meaning of wampum from culture to culture and time period to time period. It combines video installations and the artist’s watercolors and collage works with objects that the artist has selected from the museum’s collection of Dutch colonial materials. No physical wampum is exhibited in this exhibition.
According to Netherlands artist Renée Ridgway, “Wampum World is about wampum, which is made from shell. Historically, it had manifold functions for Native Americans in various aspects of their societies and is still considered sacred today. In contrast, Dutch settlers, having recognized the value of wampum for Native Americans, used wampum in exchange with European goods in order to procure beaver pelts, as part of the seventeenth century trade triangle ‘beaver, wampum, hoes.’ Metal coinage was not readily available in the New World, therefore wampum served as currency. Wampum World visually elucidates this historical exchange system and present day usages of wampum from various perspectives.”
Legacy and the (art) of storytelling
Ridgway conveys her interpretation through a multimedia exhibition that shows her mixed media drawings, prints, and video works, combined with archival documents, maps, and artifacts from the Albany Institute to form an artistic installation. The objects from the Albany Institute’s collection enhance the artist’s contributions and range from portraits of “Indian Kings,” to deeds of land purchases, to period objects such as a Dutch kas. Wampum World facilitates a greater understanding of wampum for the general public, not only as a historical document or medium of exchange, but also in relation to its modern day usages and meanings as a “cultural currency.”
Transmedia platform (https://wampumworld.net)
The Wampum World transmedia platform, set to launch on March 4, 2017, augments the exhibition as a tool for interactive storytelling. It contains video clips with interviewees, photographs, and archival documents. Interviews are with people from various fields who share their knowledge about wampum. These interviews enable various personal anecdotes and stories to surface, whether based on oral histories, archival documents, or history books. When the visitor clicks on various tags of videos, texts, and images, a unique “wampum string” is created by beads that reflect each of the viewed pages of user history. Eventually the transmedia platform will showcase documentation from the exhibition and users will be able to contribute to the site.
The artist would like to thank all of the interviewees for their participation, the Albany Institute of History & Art, the archives for their cooperation, and the following institutions for their financial support: Mondriaan Foundation, Dutch Culture: Centre for International Cooperation, and Shared Cultural Heritage. The exhibition and educational program is also supported as part of Dutch Culture USA by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.