These diaspora artists bare all, the light and shadow, of life as part of the Anglosphere’s greater community of minorities
Written by Paolo Vergara
As the adage goes, the sun never sets on the British Empire, and though the days of expansion are long gone, what remains is a heritage spanning time zones. This heritage was built and continues to be built with the help of many unsung heroes, especially minority ethnicities.
In recent times, the Filipino presence in the Anglosphere has been a steady one, with migrant workers contributing to the economies of countries like the United Kingdom and Australia. And wherever cultures go, artists follow, take root, and steep in.
Cognizant of this, the British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare Foundation, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, UK-based initiative _inventory Platform, and the Philippines’ Pineapple Lab recently collaborated to hold Where I’m Coming From, a month-long virtual exhibit curated by Linda Rocco and Rhine Bernardino featuring artists representing four language groups present in the Anglosphere: Berber, Filipino, Taiwanese, and Yoruba. Bernardino is also a participating artist.
Each group will have a week dedicated to their artists, capped off by a culinary session demonstrating a how-to of the ethnicity’s most well-known dishes.
Here, language is the focus, where the artists are given free rein to express despite a largely English-speaking audience. Subtitles are thus the name of the game. The idea behind the exhibit, the curators share, is to challenge the “dominance of the English language as the primary tool of communication.”
While the Filipino week has come to a close, some performances, some in snippets and some in full, can be viewed at the exhibit website.
Where I’m Coming From was initially planned as a physical exhibit with a series of programs, but the vagaries brought by the current pandemic have made the curators and their artists even more creative.
From space to screen
Instead of jazz instrumentals, the soundtrack is your dog barking at the neighbor’s food delivery.
You pinch your screen and zoom in, and you can see the texture of layered acrylic, the resolution is 1080 pixels, but alas, you’re still squinting, and perhaps wondering, is this how art is meant to be consumed? Better safe than sick, you tell yourself for the nth time.
This is the virtual exhibit, a challenge not just for the artists and audience, but one especially for the curators. “It’s not like a physical exhibition, where following the installation of works you leave the space to the audience. The virtual exhibition requires a much more intense process of monitoring, cross-promoting and sharing,” Bernardino confides.
Nonetheless, Bernardino and Rocco realized digitizing Where I’m Coming From enabled it to get to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t have been reached, breaking through the barriers of time and location constraints.
Still, the duo shares the concern that audience engagement may be more superficial – that is the vice of the infinite scroll, after all. Social media fatigue and screen saturation are realities that must be contended with.
Bernardino and Rocco aren’t backing down, however, tapping into their networks, creating partnerships that lead to promotions, all to reach a targeted audience. Sometimes, tactics are as specific as posting at times of the day most aligned with their intended audience. For the curators, while an online platform’s default is breadth, depth is the exhibit’s aim.
Amidst the chaos brought about the pandemic, there is an urgency buoying the curators, echoing Andrei Tarkovsky’s insight that art may just catalyze a goodness, a resistance to injustice, a resilience, which the world so desperately needs, especially given the rebuilding to follow.
It’s up to the audience to allow art to do its work, as the curators and artists will keep delivering, delivering, delivering.
Born in Australia to a family with Filipino heritage and moving to London in her early 20s, this
filmmaker now spends time between London and Queensland.
Despite both locales having British roots, they can be worlds apart.
London has made many policies benefitting to and safe spaces for BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) people. Once, however, comments from a person with darker skin implied that Scully’s experience of racism wasn’t “true enough.”
Yet back home to Queensland, the auteur still encounters slurs from young people, as well as the dismissiveness of old peers from school.
It’s this experience of otherness that her works tackle. And when not producing her own films or curating for group shows, she’s also a community programmer for marginalized ethnic groups.
For Where I’m Coming From, she produced a series of graphic interchange format images, or more commonly known as GIFs – looped frames, essentially mini films. Sometimes, traditional film can be “a long-winded exhausting process” and given the current pandemic, she welcomes this new medium. Her GIFs here are text-based, jabbing at racial slurs exacerbating stereotypes.
Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen
It was the height of Martial Law in the Philippines when Rasmussen’s family evacuated from her birth city Manila to build roots Denmark as her parents wanted their kids to grow up in a “safer and more democratic environment.”
Her first medium was video, but in 2005, a gallerist asked her to perform for a select audience a live version of a video she’d produced before. Rasmussen attributes this moment to her shift towards more experimental art forms, dominated by performance.
Most of her earlier works were dominated by a narrative driven by audio and visual elements, thus, video naturally became a “translator for [her] ideas”. Performance, however, enabled “the intention of the work to become more powerful,” highlighting the “confrontational” aspect between the artist and her audience.
Now, with a virtual exhibit, her chosen medium finds new challenges. “For me,” she expounds, “the essence of performance is presence, the live interaction with the audience and space. So [in cutting] off these important layers and levels, one has to be creative and think of how to benefit from what is left.”
Her work for Where I’m Coming From focuses on her time spent with a relative in a Manila slum, and the resulting clash – and resolution – between “two women of conflicting value systems.”
Bernardino was one of the first Filipinos to make it into the UK’s Royal College of Art. Graduating with a degree from the University of the Philippines – Diliman, she focused on sculpture during her time in the RCA. Today, performance art is her preferred medium.
Exhibiting and curating from the UK to the Nordic countries and all the way across the Pacific to Australia, she is now simultaneously performing for and organizing Where I’m Coming From. An initiative of hers, _inventory Platform seeks to highlight collaboration and community between artists, their practice, and their audiences.
Her piece for the show is a continuous live stream, from 9AM to 5PM of her sewing a thread of toilet paper with her own hair, as the Philippine National Anthem plays on loop.
Works from the exhibit can be viewed at http://www.inventoryplatform.org/