Meandering Curves of a Creek is Maia Cruz Palileo’s first solo institutional exhibition, comprised of a selection of recent paintings and drawings that continue the artist’s ongoing exploration of her personal identity, cultural heritage and feelings of multiplicity as a Filipino-American. This body of work traces a direct lineage to the ethnographic photographs of Dean C. Worcester, an American zoologist turned Secretary of the Interior who traveled to the Philippines at the turn of the nineteenth century. Palileo unearthed Worcester’s dehumanizing images in Chicago’s Newberry Library during the summer of 2017, and in turn used these photographs as a point of creative departure for transposing a bygone past into an intimately imagined world where history, myth, and superstition intersect.
In creating these works, Palileo also looked to Damián Domingo’s watercolors of people living in Manila during the 1820s, and Isabelo De Los Reyes’s 1889 manuscript El Folk-lore Filipino, a collection of texts which debased the fraught assertion that the Philippines lacked civilized culture prior to Spanish colonization. Domingo and De Los Reyes, two important figures in Filipino culture, presented a mindful image constructed through native eyes. Palileo’s balance of influences—between external projection and native introspection—mirrors the disjointed hybridity that she feels when asked about her Filipino-American identity. Although the narratives within her paintings and drawings do not portray real events, they marry the past and the present via a subdued unveiling of mysterious legacies. In this way, the exhibition reflects an attempt to shed light on the stories lost to colonialist erasure and subsequent waves of migration.
Equal parts magic realism and historical record, Meandering Curves of a Creek weaves a poignant history that meanders between fiction and non-fiction. The artist’s acid greens and yellows symbolize the lush tropical landscapes of the Philippines, while her deep hues of blues and reds capture the sun slipping into nocturne. Palileo literally cut and drew her depicted figures and objects from Worcester’s photographs, prior to placing them into various arrangements that are then recorded through graphite rubbings. This process not only allows for a potentially infinite number of newly composed visual narratives, but more importantly liberates Worcester’s subjects from the contexts that were forced upon them. By producing these works, Palileo reinterprets the past while harnessing the essence of oral stories passed down from one generation to the next.
Maia Cruz Palileo: Meandering Curves of a Creek is part of a special project made possible with support from the Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant.