Haus of Glitter Seeks to Transform and Reclaim Memorials with Heal Esek Hopkins Campaign

A Providence dance company proposes a historic intervention

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A site familiar to many, the Esek Hopkins’ statue on Branch Avenue is a stone’s throw away from Esek Hopkins Middle School – and soon to be the subject of a proposed historic intervention. Haus of Glitter, a BIPOC and queer-affirming feminist dance company, is campaigning to transform this memorial, and two others, through art.

Captain of the slave ship “Sally,” Hopkins’ legacy is steeped in white supremecy for the instrumental role he played in the slave trade in Rhode Island. Haus of Glitter has been residing in the historic home of Esek Hopkins for two years through a PARKIST Artist Residency. There, they have created, healed, and engaged with the community through performance, a Liberation Garden, and other programming. Last fall, Haus of Glitter put on “The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins,” an activist dance opera that reimagines the life of a captured Black woman who hanged herself on Hopkins’ first voyage.

“Having this conversation brings up a lot of insights and acknowledgement to the land, to the people, to the community, to the history, and is about really questioning, what do these symbols really represent? What does this really stand for? Does it really stand for our community? Does our community know about this, and do they feel represented by this history, by this preservation that’s already in place?” says Steven Choummalaithong, a member of Haus of Glitter who specializes in dance, movement, and meditation practices.

Now, Haus of Glitter is calling for Providence to reconsider who is being honored with a historic intervention. Their proposal was submitted in late January to the Commission for Commemorative Works. It includes three parts – first asking for the name of Esek Hopkins Middle School to be changed.

“It’s actually crazy that there are students who go to Esek Hopkins who know nothing about the history of Esek Hopkins,” says Assi Coulibaly, a dancer, choreographer, writer, and member of Haus of Glitter. “They show up to this school – brilliant brown and Black bodies, young students – who are going into this school, and know nothing about the history of the person whose name they see on that building every day.”

Second, Haus of Glitter proposes the statue of Esek Hopkins and its related plaque be removed and replaced with a statue of the aforementioned Black woman portrayed in “The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins,” reimagined as a mermaid and a plaque dedicated to Providence’s lineage of Black women, queer folks, and femmes. They also propose Hopkins Square be renamed Mermaid Square in honor of the woman and the many others who have been excluded from historical narratives about Esek Hopkins’ legacy. 

Third, Haus of Glitter proposes that they begin a stewardship for the home of Esek Hopkins. This would involve supporting conservation efforts and also creating commemorative works within the home and park – from history and meditation walks to a gallery exhibit – dedicated to those Hopkins harmed.

“We’re super excited and super proud of what we’ve done over the last two years, and we’re so grateful. We couldn’t have done anything without community. We were trying to show up for the community, but the community also showed up for us,” says Matthew Garza, member and performance artist. The full plan can be viewed online at
HealEsekHopkins.com
 

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