To begin with history: The 1884 Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid, where Filipino expatriates gathered in celebration for the victory of two compatriots, Juan Luna who won the gold medal for his work Spoliarium, and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo who won silver for the painting Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho. It was considered the apex of Philippine Art, a triumph not only for the artists but also for the country. Finally, “equal” racial footing was deemed attained with the colonizers.
Centuries after, this aim for Western recognition remains: gatekeepers and institutions, whose backgrounds and practices carry the same anxieties and ways of compensation, dictate the standards of validation. Culture as pronounced by the state and an ambivalent arts education carry the baggage of still being secondary to the international. Practice-wise, a different level of legitimacy is received when an artist is able to conform to global awards and exchanges. The very process of immigration vetting involves having to repeatedly prove oneself through literal political borders—- another structural imposition that controls the movement of cultural practitioners. Even the notion of mapping and positioning Southeast Asian art, a geopolitical currency and capital coined by the West and utilized by most artists today, is a manner of categorization that fuels the hierarchy.
Legend has it that whoever is able to untie the Gordian knot will become the ruler of Asia. In continuation of Lyra Garcellano’s research, as seen in her previous exhibitions Double Consciousness and Dear Artist…, the artist continues to be the pin in the middle and at the same time the one venturing to release the impossible tangle, where pulling on either ends only fastens it further. Attempts to loosen this have been numerous, with the knot staring blankly on whoever tries. The arbitration presented is open-ended: the loophole has not been found nor has the tie been cut.