The (Dis)Embodied Filipina

Argh! It’s so hard to keep up with this blog! What with work and work…oh, and work…Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I was able to catch the tail-end of The Fashioning Domesticity, Weaving Desire: Visions of the Filipina exhibit at the Pacific Asian Museum. I’m on the mailing list for the Filipino American Library and because every corner of my day is swamped, I usually disregard the emails if I know I can’t fit it in. And then lo and behold, I get an email notice saying that the exhibit on fashion and Filipinas will be ending on February 8! I mean, what’re the chances I will be able to catch an exhibit on Filipinas, fashion and culture? Ah-may-zing.

My titas

Terno, Philippines, mid 20th Century, Jusi cloth (banana fiber) The term terno means “to match” or “match” and has been loosely translated as a dress of matching pieces. An evolved reincarnation of the traditional baro’t saya (blouse and skirt ensemble), the terno includes a camisa (blouse with [butterfly] sleeves, a panuelo (handkerchief/shawl), a saya (long skirt), and in some cases, a tapis (short overskirt).

Gorgeous pink jusi. I can imagine this ensemble worn by young women in the hopes of acquiring a suitor.

Matching shoes depicting said woman's bahay (home/house).

It's not fancy enough to be a wedding dress, but I would've loved to wear something like this on my wedding day. It would've been "so me!"

I love the patterns and designs on these dresses! This one is simple and chic.

The red is beautiful! I still haven't found a nice shade of red to go with my skin tone. I wonder if this one would work...

I forget...I think this may be some sort of compact mirror with a little vase for powder...

The eyepiece reminds me of those Viewfinders from the 80's, remember those? If you look through the eyepiece, I believe the images are supposed to be superimposed one over the other.

I loved the original caption under this picture, but it said something to the effect of, "The woman on the right is the wild twin sister of the diva on the left." To be honest, I can relate to both images.

The next few images are artifacts of tourist attractions. Being the "split" Filipina I am, I'm very interested in that fringed bag. Fringe is so in right now, the titas didn't know they got a good game goin on. They'd be hustlin' today!

The thing I appreciate about "ethnic" styles are the rough and contrasting textures, the unique shapes and interesting trimmings like tassels and pom-poms. There's something grounding about these artificats because it reminds me of my roots, what makes me unique as a person, what people of my heritage do for income.

The (Dis)Embodied Filipina: Fashioning Domesticity, Weaving Desire

by Pearlie Rose S. Baluyut and Agnes A. Bertiz

From Ernst Gombrich to Adam Gopnik, the aesthetic and popular theory that style and –by extension– fashion exist only because of contrast is obvious. With perceived and/or meaningful contrasts, differences, definitions, boundaries, and values are engendered. Style and fashion, however, are not construed here simply in relation to sartorial production in ateliers and seasonal performance on runways; rather they are ideological patterns of a distinct fabrication. “The (Dis)Embodied Filipina: Fashioning Domesticity, Waeving Desire” exhibition is an art historical exploration of the contour and couture of the so-called “Filipina” identity” the “civilized/modern” and its discursive contrast, the “wild/primitive.” Two images fused into one, these domesticated and/or desired women are made to behave like violent mirrors, (dis)embodying each other for the viewer through illusions performed by an institutional stereoscope, a spectacular apparatus of colonialism and democracy.

Click here for the rest of the essay on the exhibit.

I’ve always found philosophy impossible to read, but I made it through the essay and am attempting to interpret it in normal-person vernacular. Long story short, tIt’s general knowledge that the Philippines is one of the most Westernized countries in Asia, thanks to 300 years of Spanish and United States rule. The exhibit curators crossed “civilized” tourist items with pictures of indigenous Filipino women in an attempt to show the effects of colonialism on the Philippines. I first felt the schizophrenic “split” between being Filipino and having been born in the United States when I was in graduate school, and the feeling has stayed since then. I’m just grateful that the split is still being addressed and even more appreciative that it’s being shown via fashion and style.

The (Dis)Embodied Filipina: Fashioning Domesticity, Weaving Desire

by Pearlie Rose S. Baluyut and Agnes A. Bertiz

“All sort of things in the world behave like mirrors.” – Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book II (1)

From Ernst Gombrich to Adam Gopnik, the aesthetic and popular theory that style and –by extension– fashion exist only because of contrast is obvious (2). With perceived and/or meaningful contrasts, differences, definitions, boundaries, and values are engendered. Style and fashion, however, are not construed here simply in relation to sartorial production in ateliers and seasonal performance on runways; rather they are ideological patterns of a distinct fabrication. “The (Dis)Embodied Filipina: Fashioning Domesticity, Waeving Desire” exhibition is an art historical exploration of the contour and couture of the so-called “Filipina” identity” the “civilized/modern” and its discursive contrast, the “wild/primitive.” Two images fused into one, these domesticated and/or desired women are made to behave like violent mirrors, (dis)embodying each other for the viewer through illusions performed by an institutional stereoscope, a spectacular apparatus of colonialism and democracy (3).

To trouble the polarized significations of the Filipina, this exhibition stages the language of contrast by medium and subject. Tasked specifically to exhibit the museum’s collection of textiles, these donations of ternos in various states of completeness and condition from hitherto private closests are paired with ethnographic photographs of the American colonial era circulating in public domain. While domesticity is fashioned through the former, desire is woven through the latter. Functioning mannequins wearing delicate costumes with four large black-and-white nude portraits of tribal women appropriated from dusty memoirs, outdated travelogues, anthropological surveys, or tourist postcards. Indeed, contrast is made to co-exist so as to reenact the “before and after” of a discursive makeover, a dramatic demonstration of the benefits of progress from the ill- to the self-goverened body (4). Activated and naturalized by the braided contexts of colonialism and democracy, the “Filipina” inevitably becomes a (dis)embodied landscape inside the museum.

According to historian Mina Roces, the terno — from its rural genesis to its national appropriation — marks a form of belonging and (em)power(ment) (5). But if clothing in its cyclical reinventions signifies citizenship, does partial and/or complete nudity automatically signify disenfranchisement? Or could the skin of the Negrito, the Bontoc, the Manabo, and the Banaue, in its resistance to a sartorial code that domesticates the body and institutionalizes identity, constitute subversion and independent from power? Could the wild in its (in)difference, in its refusal to conform, in its resistance to change, and its marginality be perceived as fashionable? Indeed, while the popular and national terno overcomes flatness with the starched architecture of its butterfly sleeve, the complex choreography of its handkerchief, blouse, skirt, and train, and the anecdotal embroidery of its layered surface, the large portraits appear risque, warranting censorship, and, consequently, a desirable fantasyd. Yet the imaged anatomy of the forbidden and the fiction of desire it weaves are also discursively constituted and institutionally staged as is the appearance of choice, whish is already preempted and polarzied (6).

Central to this binary conquest and governance is the acknowledgement of its own ideological and corporal liminality, of being at the threshold. Under a glass cabinet of personal curiosities and tourist-driven commodities, the once incommensurable and polarized significations of the civilized/modern and wild/primitive co-exist more intimately, temporally reflecting and spatially colliding as seen through a mirror. The rosary with a crucifix pendant is in bed with a necklace of brass bells while a comb adorned with intoxicating pink pompoms challenges the sobriety of the gold peineta. Beaded sandals and velvet-lined slippers dance like coiled rings dangling from elongated earlobes. In the blue vitrine, the crocheted coinpouch is entangled in the rhythmic ropes of another worn rattan wrestles with paper woven as a book of photographs and postcards.

While the popular stereoscope functioned to overcome the obstacle of flatness through three-dimensional viewing, “The (Dis)Embodied Filipina: Fashioning Domesticity, Weaving Desire” uses the museological mirror to deflate illusion of the “Filipina” and its polarized identity and iconography. Through traditional textiles, ethnographic photography, and objects of personal adornment, the exhibition rehearses the material and spectral dialogue, dramatizes the fashioning of domesticity and weaving of desire, and unveils the fiction of its imaginary (re)production in the late 19th to mid 20th century. Discursively constituted as “civilized/modern” and “wild/primitive,” the “Filipina” is at once at home and exiled from herself–an alienated unity, (dis)embodied with violence and intimacy as she gazes at the mirror.

ENDNOTES

  1. Jaques Lacan, The Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and n the Technique of Psychoanlysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: Norton, 1988). Originally delivered in 1954-1955, Lacan states: “The mirror stage is based on the rapport between, on one hand, a certain level of tendencies which are experienced as disconnected an, on the other, a unity with which it is merged and paired. In this unity, the subject knows itself as unity, but as alienated, virtual one.”
  2. Ernst Gombrich, “Style” in Donald Preziosi, ed., The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.150-151. In his 1968 essay, Gombrich writes that the term “style” denotes “a desirable consistency and conspicuousness that makes a performance or artifact stand out from a mass of ‘undistinguised’ events or objects.” While Gombrich’s term ‘style’ is “used descriptively for alternative ways of doing things, the term ‘fashion’ can be dreserved for the fluctuating preferences which carry social prestige.” Adam Gopnik, in his attempt to understand the competition between two cafes in Paris, restates a Parisian friend’s explanation that “[t]he fashionable exists only in relation to something that is not that way.” See Gopnik, “A Tale of Two Cafes” in Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon (New York: Random House 2001), p.85.
  3. The “viewer,” in this case, is an individual seeking to find oneself in (an)other(s). “[T]he image,” according to Judith Butler’s reading of Jacques Lacan, who analyzes the ego as an object with an imaginary origin and function, “not only constitutes the ego, but constitutes the ego as imaginary.” See Lacan, The Seminar, Book II and Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), p.261, footnote 23.
  4. Butler, Bodies That Matter, p.260, footnote 20. In her reading of Jacques Lacan’s seminar, Butler explains that the “mirror-stage gives form or morphe to the ego through the phantasmatic delineation of a body control.”
  5. Mina Roces, “Women, Citizenship, and The Politics of Dress in Twentieth-Century Philippines,” Kasama, vol., 19, no. 1 9January-March 2005). A noteworthy point Roces makes besides the politics of the dress to empower women is the “sartorial binary” and concomitant gender inequity, not between women, but men (colonizers and natives) and women (natives).
  6. Gombrich argues “that only in the background of alternative choices can the distinctive way also be seen as expressive.” Indeed, Gombrich quoting a linguist, “The pivot of the whole theory of expressiveness is the concept of choice.” See Gombrich, “Style,” p. 151.
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. The Pinoy Wife (@ThePinoyWife)
    May 24, 2014 @ 11:13:58

    Hello! That fringed bag in Picture 11 is worn by the Ifugao men. This is where they store the ingredients of their betel nut chews.

    Reply

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