Seasons of Migration - Elizabeth Souza
This collection of paintings is reflective of my personal experiences as an immigrant and a descendant of many generations of migration. I am a member of the Dutch-Indonesian Diaspora (also called Indo), which is the result of over 300 years of Dutch expansion into the Pacific. In 1595, the Dutch sent their first explorers to the Pacific in order to break the Portuguese monopoly on the spice trade. Once there they set up territory in the Spice Islands -later called the Dutch East Indies, and established a colonial rule that lasted over 300 years. The foundation of Dutch dominance in the region was in part made possible by their willingness to create new “Europeans” by intermarrying with the native population. This created a Mestizo culture that governed and maintained the colony. The Dutch Indos were socially placed below the Totoks –pure white people- and above the purely native people. In later years this placement was troublesome because of native resentment towards them in Indonesia and suspicion towards them in their new home, the Netherlands. Even the white citizens raised in the Dutch East Indies were regarded with some contempt when they were repatriated to the Netherlands. Eventually though, the Indo population adapted fully, and have since assimilated into European culture, and many regions around the world.
Dutch-Indonesian is not necessarily an accurate description of the people belonging to this cultural group because many claim ancestries from multiple European and Asian countries. Ethnically they reflect the melting pot that is the Pacific. Fortunately, Dutch Indos are very adaptable people which benefitted them after World War II when the Netherlands could no longer hold their Indonesian colony. This caused the displacement of 300,000 Dutch citizens. Some Indos stayed in Indonesia where they faced a lowered position in society. However, most of the Dutch Indonesians moved to the Netherlands. The climate in Holland of the 1950’s was both metaphorically and literally cold for them. This caused a large number of Indos to uproot again and move to the United States. The mass migration was made possible because quotas of Dutch immigrants entering the U.S. were raised in the 50’s in order to provide relief from devastating floods. Once in America, most Indos settled in Southern California where they easily acclimated to the temperate weather and ethnically diverse culture. Mainly they settled in the areas of Pasadena, Long Beach, and Orange County.
Each of my pieces reflects a collage of thoughts, dreams, and metaphors as opposed to actual depictions of events in my people’s history. They have been created out of intuition and are meant as interpretation of the story instead of as illustration. They follow the timeline from the Njai -the primordial mother encountering the first Dutch ships- to Mata Hari, a Dutch courtesan who created a persona out of her experiences living in the Indies, and to Eddie Van Halen an icon of successful assimilation. Dutch Indo culture is centered on celebration, there is a great love of food, dancing, and music and I hope that the joy of my culture is evident to the viewer.
While I was creating this body of work, there was a lot of media coverage about the hardships and perils that immigrants and refugees are currently facing in their attempts to enter the United States. These events drew many parallels in my mind. It may seem colloquial to say that history repeats itself, but it is still the truth. People have migrated across boundaries since the beginning of time and that will never change. My hope is that this collection can spark empathy and appreciation of the contributions immigrants can bring to their new homes.