Location: Normal, IL, United States
In an 1895 photograph from the University of Michigan Philippine archives, a smiling Filipina faces the camera, posing in front of lush tropical trees with a hand on her hip. The bottom half of her body is wrapped in an intricate tapestry, and the top half of her body is naked, except for beaded necklaces. Written into the photograph is the title “Young Ifugao Belle, 382.” This image is just one of thousands of photographs taken by American colonizers who were eager to create a narrative of white saviorism and thus shape the way Americans perceived the Philippines throughout the twentieth century.
I am a Filipino-American photographer and artist, and for my project, Field Notes, I create photocollages based upon archival images from the American colonial period in the Philippines. By physically cutting, pasting, and rearranging various elements of the images, I aim to deconstruct and critique the colonial gaze, while attempting to reclaim part of the photographic narrative. I hope that by layering and reshaping images upon images, the cumulative effect interrupts the reading of the original photograph. In some collages, the cut patterns reference textile-makers across the Philippine archipelago, while in other collages, shapes and silhouettes allude to a problematic colonial past.
Field Notes is a meditation upon the long, complex relationships between the Philippines and the United States, anthropology and photography, and mass media and society. By weaving historical photographs into my own contemporary art practice, I recontextualize archives that codified colonial power dynamics between the United States and the Philippines. Ultimately, I hope that my project will contribute to a growing conversation by contemporary artists who are eager to interrogate the colonizing power of the archive, not only for Filipinos, but for all members of the Global South.