Belated Happy New Year to you all. I’ve been online, though mostly in work and research mode. I’ve been trawling the USF Gleeson Library online databases for my spring semester course, finalizing my syllabus, downloading readings (articles, literary work) from Project MUSE et al, and uploading these into Blackboard. I’ve been contacting local Filipino American artists and arts orgs. I should also say that my syllabus transformed itself from a dense and disorganized outline o’ stuff into something manageable, interesting, and hopefully fun; this has happened because I’ve been thinking about Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales and Valerie Soe, both of whom have taught the Community Arts course in SFSU’s Asian American Studies Department.
So this is what my course is becoming, a series of discussions of the work of local arts orgs and mostly local artists, in order to think about Fil Am arts advocacy and activism, at the same time, to engage the works for their historical and cultural themes (i.e. as historical documents), and to engage them as art (i.e. created by artists with some amount of education/training and technical expertise in their respective fields). Filipino American artists as cultural historians — that thing again, about how we can’t simply be “artists,” or “Artists,” that we must always create art that is relevant, accessible, and affirming to our communities, that our art must always be an autobiographical statement, that our art must always be historically and ethnically correct.
So then, I am wondering whether our art “suffers,” becomes stunted as art, as a result of these expectations of having to be ethnic identity based and “correct.” This comes up as I’ve been in contact with a very talented local filmmaker named Nara Denning, whose noir-ish, silent film work seems to me anything but Fil Am ethnic identity based. I have to figure out how to present and discuss this work in a Fil Am Arts course, so it’s a challenge to myself, but also I believe a challenge to those who hold rigidly to ethnic identity based art, with no “taint” of Western institutional, “Ivory Tower” influence. I say these things to underscore extremes, how they are unhelpful.
Which brings me to this. I’ve been thinking about autobiographical faithfulness, historical and ethnic correctness as pertains to Diwata. I’ve blogged here before about my apprehension that Diwata be read as accurate and faithful representation of Filipino mythology. Well, it’s not; it’s a whole lotta confabulation, which I have been explaining to my potential blurbers and cover artist. As well, since I’ve just been given an opportunity to contribute to the publicity materials for the book, I’ve written this: “The poems in Diwata are invented, reimagined, and rewritten mythologies in which my Filipina storyteller provides different circumstances and outcomes for her heroines….”
The poetic speaker is not me. The stories are and aren’t what I’ve been told. They come from Filipino sources, and not. They utilize Filipino oral tradition, and many other oral and written forms, including those which I made up.
I have also been thinking about “political” and “relevant,” and why these must be so intertwined with autobiography and “identity politics,” and so divorced from substantial, critical discussions on artistic process, and substantial, critical discussions about the details of the work itself.
In addition to Nara Denning, another artist whose work I am using this coming semester is Jenifer K. Wofford, specifically her MacArthur Nurses series. She has very generously provided me with her notes on this series, which was recently included in a Manila Contemporary Gallery exhibit. Here is one of the images in her series:
Beyond the more apparent influence of Douglas MacArthur’s infamous landing at Leyte Beach, Wofford’s notes include discussion of Hurricane Katrina, river baptisms in the American South, Gaugin, and Vermeer. So there’s a lot going on here in terms of composition, in terms of “Western” artistic and cultural influence and appropriation, in terms of Filipino history, diaspora, transnationalism.
OK. I haven’t resolved anything here, but rather, I’ve brain dumped. Well, it’s helpful for me as I try to get myself reorganized. Onward, I suppose.