busis ibat ha kanayunan (voices from the hinterlands)
december 7, 2017
curated by diana campbell betancourt
While Bataan is small in area, the Almighty God has prodigiously gifted it with blessings found in abundance in its sea, land, and mountains. The climate is temperate, the soil fertile, and its geographic location excellent for maritime commerce. Alas, the people have everything that they need in this province, if only they knew how to benefit from them, they would soon be prosperous. This is after all what Spain, our Motherland, wishes for them!
—Fr. Vicente Fernández, Memoria, 1888
“You from my race, this is what you should do for all time: You should love one another, help one another, care for one another, and respect the land I gave you. Plant, take care, and nurture it. Treat it as community property.”
—Apo Alipon, Ayta ancestor of Bataan (passed through oral tradition)
These two passages, both referring to the Bataan Peninsula, provide starkly different points of view when it comes to humanity’s ideal relationship with nature. In the first, nature is meant to be “benefited from,” changed, and exploited to enable the needs of human development by building roads, harbours, plantations, etc. In the latter, nature is meant to be preserved in the way it was handed down from our ancestors, sustaining future generations. The crux of the centuries-old plight of the Aytas* of Bataan—a topic that Bellas Artes Projects artist-in-residence Cian Dayrit (b. 1989) has been engaging with for the last eight months—lies in the inability of colonial powers to understand the Ayta culture of mobility and values, which are not tied to capitalism.
In Busis Ibat Ha Kanayunan (Voices from the Hinterlands), Dayrit speaks with, rather than for, the 18 Ayta communities of Bataan province, using art as a vehicle to tell their stories of origin and of contact with the world around them. They’ve transformed Bellas Artes Outpost into an outpost for the Bataan Ayta histories and culture via a timeline, historical photographs (many of them illustrative of a form of colonial gaze that this show attempts to thwart), field recordings, readings, and of course, Dayrit’s art created in collaboration with the craftsmen at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Walking around Bataan, Dayrit was surprised at how few people engage with the indigenous Ayta communities, and this is a research-based artistic project aimed to foster a deeper understanding between highland and lowland communities, and also to publicly discuss the complexities around representing indigenous communities and around cultural appropriation in the art world.
This exhibition requires time, sensitivity, and careful listening in order to shift one’s frame of mind from passage one to two and empathize with the stories Dayrit and the Aytas share here. There is no such thing as a “pure” culture anymore, but deeply embedded community projects such as these are one small steps of resistance against a globalism of values that threaten to strip us from the wealth of our cultural diversity. This dynamic exhibition, and the literature within it, will grow throughout the duration of the show and return back to Bataan in a new form for the Ayta communities there, therefore falling outside of trivial tropes of exoticism often used when attempting to engage with indigenous issues from privileged perspectives.
—DIANA CAMPBELL BETANCOURT
*this text uses the spelling of “Ayta” (as used by the Ayta communities of Bataan) instead of “Aeta.”