In 2016, I attended a month-long artist residency in the city of Puebla in Mexico to explore the evidence of trade routes between Mexico and my home country, the Philippines. For two and a half centuries, Mexico and the Philippines were under Spanish domination. During this period (1565 to 1815), huge vessels would navigate the Pacific, from the port of Acapulco (Mexico) to Manila (the Philippines). The complete trade route transported cargo such as silver, silk, porcelain, and spices, from Seville in Spain to the Mexican port of Veracruz, overland through strategically positioned cities such as Puebla, to the port of Acapulco, on to Manila and back. This colossal enterprise ensured a rich intermingling and assimilation of customs, traditions, language and aesthetics. The works presented in this exhibition show my reflections on a shared past in relation to the Spanish colonial expansion in the Pacific.
I used found objects, photographs, stories and maps as springboard to transcend historical facts and to delve in the poetic possibilities of events.
Driftwood fragments collected on the shores of Philippine islands are juxtaposed with photographic plaster transfers portraying wall textures from the old town of Puebla.
The gel transfers of old maritime maps representing the galleons’ voyage across the Pacific provide a metaphor for the inherent instability of cartography as historical construction. I infused the maps with fictional anecdotes, giving a personal touch to the otherwise anonymous diagrams.
Then there’s the Mexican popular legend of the “China Poblana”. The myth is based on the historical figure of an Asian woman (Indian? Filipina?) called “Mirrha” who was shipped to Mexico in the 17th century and baptised as “Catarina de San Juan”. She lived in Puebla as a servant and gradually morphed into the popular symbol of Mexican femininity as “La China Poblana” in the 20th century. By reenacting the myth using my own choice of characters, I strive to expand on existing popular narratives and stereotypes and hint at the constant evolution of cultural constructs.
Through the exhibition “Retracing Roots / Routes” I try to render a divergent, more personal perspective on the era of the Spanish Galleon trade, allowing myself to reimagine my own identity which surges between Europe, Mexico and the Philippines.