Legarda: The Spectre of Comparison Examines the Filipino Identity

May 8, 2017

The centuries of colonial rule and the decades of continuing diaspora have shaped the Filipino identity—a point of discussion in The Spectre of Comparison, the Philippine Pavilion for the 57th International Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.


“This exhibition questions the processes with which our identity as a nation has been formed, our curious condition as an archipelago of varied languages and ethnicities brought together by this modern construct; that these processes occurred in the context of hundreds of years of colonialism and occupation is not insignificant,” explains Senator Loren Legarda in the official catalogue for The Spectre of Comparison.


Joselina Cruz, the curator of the 2017 Philippine Pavilion, explains thatThe Spectre of Comparison is drawn from the novel Noli Me Tángere by Jose Rizal. The phrase encapsulates the experience of Rizal’s protagonist, Crisostomo Ibarra, when he gazes out at the botanical gardens of Manila and simultaneously sees the gardens of Europe. This point of realization suggests the loss of Ibarra’s (and Rizal’s) political innocence, this double-vision of experiencing events up close and from afar: no longer able to see the Philippines without seeing Europe nor gaze at Europe without seeing the Philippines.


Legarda, the visionary and principal advocate behind the Philippines’ return to the Venice Biennale, said, “The Spectre of Comparison ensures it is impossible for us to comprehend who we are without the painful hauntings of our history. This was the case for Crisostomo Ibarra, for Rizal, and I am sure for Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo. These artists are all immigrants, as so many Filipinos are or have been: the West exists as both perpetrator and refuge; the Philippines as the home suddenly ripe for critique.”


The 2017 Philippine Pavilion features Filipino artists Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo, who both have lived and practiced outside of the Philippines, but have maintained active engagement with the country throughout their careers.


The artists’ practice and their subject matters are deeply involved with their experiences as immigrants or citizens of a new diaspora that also reflect the complexity of a contemporary Philippine identity.


“The power of art to widen the imagination and sphere of possibilities for human life cannot be underestimated. The anxieties and doubts that ensue when questions of identity arise, as in the predicaments of Maestro and Ocampo, can be fully explored and understood, even if not resolved, through art,” said Legarda.


“I celebrate that this year’s Philippine Pavilion argues for the diasporic experience as an intrinsic part of the Filipino identity, as that identity and the nationalism that it fosters continue to shift and remake itself, producing great art in its wake,” Legarda concluded.


The Philippine participation at the Venice Biennale is a joint undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.


The Philippine Pavilion, housed at the Artiglierie of the Arsenale in Venice, will hold its vernissage on May 11 and will be open to the public from May 13 to November 26, 2017.