Event Recap | Filipiniana: Collecting Culture in the Philippines by Patrick D. Flores

Filipiniana: Collecting Culture in the Philippines
By Fiona Tan
Year 4, History Major

The second presenter of the Curating Nation series, Professor Patrick Flores, gave an enlightening presentation on the history of art collecting and nation-building in the Philippines. Exploring individual collectors such as Jorge Vargas, Fernando Zobel, and Arturo Luz, Flores traces the different ways the nation was curated in line with the socio-political changes.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment of Philippines’ recent history is the People’s Power Revolution which ended the 21-year reign of Ferdinand Marcos. The Marcos regime was known for its patronage of the arts, with the First Lady Imelda Marcos endorsing numerous cultural projects and activities. The pressing question faced by Philippines was thus the need to deal with both the post-colonial legacies and the post-dictatorship stigma attached to the Marcos name.

To this issue, Flores offers no easy answer.  Acknowledging the self-reflexive efforts of Marian Pastor Roces, Curator of the Museo ng Kalinangang Pilipino which was part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a legacy of the Marcos cultural policy, Flores notes her own hesitation at being raised on a pedestal. Returning private collections of archaeological and Muslim art to rebuild the museum from scratch, Roces embarked on an ambitious attempt to resist the ethnographic atemporal present through curating a living museum of Filipino culture, but disappointingly concludes that “museums are the least congenial place for exhibiting flow.”

This scepticism of the museum space was once again evoked by Roces’ evaluation of another project of hers, an exhibition of sugar plantations at Negros Museum. Attempting to curate the banwa (old town) corner without succumbing to “the pull of reverie and bourgeois delectation” and consigning it to “the rarefied domain of the nostalgia-charged relic”, Roces is pessimistic given the nature of museums as she comments:

Museums resurrect ruins to conjure a romantic rarification, so that the objects, texts and images within it are charged with other-worldly desirability. But it is also in this sense of the museum as grandiloquent ruin that its representational impotence shows up, as indeed it did in the “banwa corner”. Although rendered in three-dimensional space, the banwa in the museum remained socially, historically, and conceptually “flat.” It was flattened by the word museum (the sign and power of the building), which transforms everything in it into relics.[1]

Flores goes on to talk about how Roces considered it a failure, with the astute comment that “juxtaposition is acceptable but not re-categorization”. Despite how objects seemed condemned to certain fixed categories and are considered “flat” once they are exhibited in the sterile space of a museum, it seems overly harsh to consider them failures. The use of “failure” seems to foreclose, or at least seriously deter, further experimentation within the oppressive restrictions of the museum space.

Is re-categorizing really the goal of a post-colonial museum, or will it render yet another layer of silencing of voices? If the colonial museum typology is condemned for its rigid categorization which silences agency of the indigeneous, would the national museum typologies avoid the same act of violence? Is it ever possible to re-categorize without silencing any perspective? Perhaps juxtaposition, if done with taste and self-reflexivity, could be considered a limitedly successful outcome in itself.

[1] Marian Pastor Roces, “Pictures at an exhibition: re-presenting the sugar industry at the Negros Museum, Philippines”, in House of Glass: Culture, Modernity, and the State in Southeast Asia, edited by Yao Souchou (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2001), pp. 275-276 [pp.270-286]

Filipiniana: Collecting Culture in the Philippines was held on 2 December 2011 at the NUS Museum.


  1. Nusmuseum, your blogpage is very informative!

  2. Very interesting. Enjoy these blogs, keep 'em coming! :)


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