Artist Frohawk Two Feathers brings his obsessive, elaborate, alternate version of New York City history to a Chelsea gallery
Imagine that France and England were military allies—that they fought together in the Hundred Years’ War and the Seven Years’ War. They united under the direction of black, Hispanic, and mixed-race leaders to form the nation of Frengland, an imperial superpower fortified by strategic military action and colonization.
This is European history, as re-told by Los Angeles–based artist Frohawk Two Feathers.
Part historical fiction, part soap opera, Two Feathers’s elaborate narrative follows the diverse cast of tattooed leaders, power-hungry mercenaries, renegade former slaves, and skillful assassins who shaped Frengland’s past. Currently on view at Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York is the artist’s most recent chapter on the history of Frengland, titled “Heartbreaking and shit, but that’s the globe. The Battle of Manhattan.”
Two Feathers illustrates this saga using a series of painted portraits and maps on faux-aged paper and intricately crafted instruments and artifacts. These works—which are influenced by actual historic events as well as modern-day hip-hop imagery, slang, and music—chronicle the 1790 conflict that took place between Frengland and the colonial Dutchmen of New Holland (modern-day New York) in New Amsterdam (Manhattan). Here’s a who’s who of the key players in Two Feathers’s latest episode:
Horace and Isabel
Also known as Horus and Isis, this Frenglish husband-and-wife team led the Bartica Brigade. Isis was known for her abilities as an orator, and, as the Capricorn glyphs in her earrings suggest, she was pragmatic and ambitious. Horace was very tactful and possessed strong negotiating skills. He helped win the Battle of Manhattan for Frengland, but the couple made New Amsterdam, specifically Harlem, their new home.
King Arend “Aart” of New Holland
Seen here holding a rifle in one hand and an ax in the other, Arend was a strict leader concerned with strengthening the fortresses in New Amsterdam. He was a trusted adviser to Queen Ineke and it was rumored that her daughter, Beatrix, was his illegitimate child. Arend considered himself to be a wise and well-informed leader, which is echoed by his Eye of Horus bandana. Arend lost favor with his constituents after mandating that all men, ages 12 to 65, join the military. As the story goes, he was so unpopular that no guard agreed to accompany him to his coronation, for fear of an assassination attempt. Arend had to place the crown on his head by himself.
After her parents were killed during one of the Huron chief Red Arm’s raids, the tribe took her in and taught her how to fight. Irene worked closely with Portia, a Spanish noblewoman also captured by Red Arm, in Portia’s all-women military unit called the Sisters of the Red Wood. Irene was fortunate to be a part of this unit, as most women captured during Huron raids were forced into a life of sexual slavery. Her paw-print tattoos—a nod to the rapper and songwriter Eve—signify that she was a member of the Order of Bast.
The tiger tattoo on her face indicates that Halima was from Southeast Asia. She was captured there and sold into slavery, but eventually she escaped, fled to New Sweden (New Jersey,) and became an assassin. She trained children to become soldiers so that they could fight in the “Children’s Crusade.” Unfortunately, most of Halima’s students died in a bloody battle against Queen Ineke’s troops. It is likely she was killed in that battle as well, though her body was never found.
Chief Joseph He-Who-Is-Most-Like-Them
Chosen by the Iroquois to represent their interests, Joseph worked closely with the Dutch. He had visited Amsterdam and spoke their language. Though he sided against the Bonnie Prince, he didn’t want to directly engage in the battle. Instead, he was interested in procuring trade profits and supplies that would help him build his own army. Joseph’s military ambitions are evident in this portrait, which depicts the chief making a gun-shaped gesture with his left hand. He is the only unarmed leader in Two Feathers’s narrative.
Punjab Pete, aka Butrus of Sindh
Visibly weathered by his time on the front lines, Pete was wrongly accused of murdering his friend Admiral Thierry Jacoulet. As punishment, Pete was forced to fight in the siege of Fort Ferdinand, where he was wounded by a sniper’s bullet. He survived his injury and vowed to avenge Jacoulet’s death. The matching Eye of Horus tattoos on his index and middle fingers hint that Pete knew who was responsible for the murder.
Determined to marry Bonnie Prince Johnnie, Lucretia hired an assassin to kill his lover Anibal. Johnnie believed that the Dutch were responsible for the murder, which prompted him to strike a brutal attack on New Holland. Because the Bartica Brigade sabotaged the Dutch army’s weapons, Johnnie’s troops were able to defeat them with relative ease and win the Battle of Manhattan. Like Irene, Lucretia was a member of the Order of Bast, which is indicated by her black cat tattoo and the cat on her shoulder.