Angel Velasco Shaw curates two simultaneous exhibitions
“The Inverted Telescope,” an exhibition curated by Angel Velasco Shaw at The Drawing Room and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, addresses what Shaw interprets to be transnationalist experiences of Filipino artists and the practices of appropriation, adaptation, and co-optation.
Could you expound on what you mean by “transnationalist experience,” and why it inspired you to curate simultaneous exhibitions and a symposium? Angel Velasco Shaw:
By transnationalist experiences in this context, I’m referring to how
Filipino artists who had left their homelands to either study, visit, or live in western countries were inspired and/or influenced by these cultures, art practices, and mindsets.
The exhibitions and the symposium are born out of something deeply personal. I realized that even if I’m American-born, the conversation surrounding the Filipinization of a culture that has been deeply colonized is of utmost importance to engage in. But it is not up to me to say what that process is, how one does it, why, and when. Filipinization means many things to different people. The themes of adaptations, co-optation, and appropriation lend themselves to the Philippines because of its colonial history and how that history resonates in Philippine society today.
Talking about the impact of the West and it’s influence on Filipino artists is always a sticky subject isn’t it. Do you see this issue being resolved?
When I first started looking at Philippine art in a serious way in 1985, at first I thought a lot of the work I was seeing, except for the social realists’, was derivative of the west—that they were either appropriating, co-opting, or copying western modern and contemporary art. Over the years, I realized I’d been brainwashed by my own education and by the way the art world was looking at non-white art. I started to rethink or, rather, analyze what this means. Who is appropriating whom, who’s adapting what, who’s co-opting what and how? I think it’s too much of a generalization to say Filipinos are making “Filipino” art or Americans and Europeans are making American and European art. It’s not simply about nationalism.
Over the years, as I looked at more art and talked to more artists, I noticed a lot of “unevenness” in the practices of many artists. Because I’m in the Philippines, I’ll say Filipino artists, but I think this holds true globally—I think this is important to say. This is why the criticism of Western art critics and curators are wrong. Whether Filipinos are consciously or unconsciously doing this, I think many Filipinos problematize the debate about what makes contemporary art “Filipino” or what “Filipino” contemporary art is. It’s important to question if art made in the Philippines needs to be “Filipinized.”
How are the themes of appropriation, adaptation, and co-optation explored in the exhibition and what is their relationship to the “inverted telescope”?
First, the phrase, “inverted telescope” is coined by the late political scientist Benedict Anderson in his introduction of The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia,
and The World. The way Anderson wrote about the experience of being in an “inverted telescope” has to do with his interpretation of a passage in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. When Ibarra comes back to Manila from Europe, he rides a carriage that passes by the botanical gardens. And for a moment, there is a sense of the familiar: He feels he is back in Europe. But when he turns his head, he sees that he’s really in Manila. Similarly, artists who have gone abroad for however long and come back to the Philippines experience the country through a different lens, which can be quite discomforting and haunting.
The telescope has two lenses that I see as metaphoric for perceptions and experiences that are binary opposites (near and far), and not necessarily seen as a space for convergence that happens inside the telescope. Symbolically, it’s the space between the lenses where I feel these questions about and practices of appropriation, adaptation, and co-optation happen. This space
reflects where the artists have been, their influences, how they translate and embrace an experience, and then create something. The artists in the exhibition are already addressing these practices. They’re utilizing and criticizing them simultaneously.
Is critical work appreciated and do you see a difference in the way this kind of work is viewed depending on the spaces they occupy?
Yes, absolutely. But first and foremost, I was concerned that The Drawing Room’s space would be too small to accommodate seven artists and one artist’s collective so I thought of expanding the exhibition to the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Also, being an artist, teacher, curator, and cultural organizer myself, I’d been working with these exact themes throughout my life. This light bulb came on in my head about how connected my obsession with questioning the tense relationship between public and private spaces was with “The Inverted Telescope” exhibition—in this case, the commercial gallery which is for profit and a government-run cultural institution. Does the meaning of the works change in these spaces? Does it matter? Are the artists consciously or unconsciously creating for these two different spaces? I’m a firm believer that the process of creating a piece of artwork is more interesting and is of a different kind of importance than the end product. The viewer sees what they want to see and doesn’t necessarily think about what the artist went through to make the piece. We all have our influences. There are so many issues an artist thinks about when they’re creating something: having the confidence just to make the work; and if they are selling their work, the questions of what being “original” means and what makes their work better than somebody else’s comes up. Who’s to say, because so much is subjective anyway?
The art marketplace, which in this case is represented by the gallery, affects the artists in a huge way because there’s always the concern of [their survival] and all this other stuff. But the market is driven and dictated by something beyond the artist’s control. So when you think of art being a commodity, there are so many contradictions that the artists themselves are feeling. Duchamp, when he decided to call himself Richard Mutt and made “The Fountain” (the urinal piece) a century ago, he was challenging art as it was practiced and known then. I don’t think he was thinking about originality and authenticity. He was changing how an object is viewed and valued. That’s why there are so many contradictions within the concepts, practices, and criticisms of appropriation, adaptation, and co-optation. •
Above and below: “Framed: Mabini Art Project” by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan
Above: Sketches posted on the walls of the hallway entrance Right: “Mine me not-mine me not-mine me not-mine me-mine me not-mine me not..” by Gaston Damag