Hi there. Some of my Filipino American Arts students may have emailed you by now. Their soon due mid-semester project is to conduct an interview, oral history style, with a Filipino American artist, and to present this artist and his/her work to the class. They may be asking you how you came to your particular art discipline, who your mentors were/are, what your process is from idea to finished piece, and what the role of community (not specifically Filipino, but I do believe artists necessarily have communities) has been throughout your career.
When I took Asian American Community Arts at SFSU, one assignment was an oral history report on an Asian American arts organization. That was probably 2004? 2003? I interviewed Sarah Gambito and Joseph Legaspi about Kundiman, how and why it came to be, how and why they do what they do, what they think are the community’s needs their work meets. I like the idea of the oral history, the stories which academic texts may not necessarily include, the inclusion of “in their own words” versus only our interpretation in academic language of the artist/organizer’s intentions.
The purpose of this assignment, I told my students at the beginning of the semester, was to have the opportunity to interact with Filipino American artists, to engage them in conversation about craft and process, about social concerns. I told them there is a dearth of published information on Fil Am artists, particularly emerging ones, and I should have added artists who don’t fit particular expectations or resist conforming to expectations. I did not tell them that inclusion and exclusion is also political, social, and also aesthetic, and that to exclude oftentimes is to ostracize.
What I did tell them is that the dearth of information on Fil Am artists is due to a possible real lack, but I think is also due to interviews, reviews, papers, essays, journals being inaccessible to the greater community; i.e. what you can only find in college and university libraries is oftentimes different from what you can find in your local public library. And what you find in college and university libraries is oftentimes not written in language that is accessible to the larger community. This tells me work is not being written with the larger community in mind as the primary audience. The primary audience is other academics.
This is not an accusation. I mean, I find myself frustrated with what I consider fluffy, warm, and fuzzy writing in mainstream Fil Am magazines and newspapers when profiling Who’s Who in the Community; I think it insults the community’s intelligence, and assumes our concerns are also always fluffy, warm, and fuzzy.
Re: “Who’s Who in the Community,” articles, don’t get me wrong; I dig a photo and rave about Olympic bronze medalist J.R. Celski’s Pinoy and Polish Pride tattoo, or an Arnel Pineda rags to riches tearjerker. But I also think our community can handle an article critically examining Manny Pacquiao’s global and corporate marketability. Ah see how the visible ones are men? That’s also worth critically examining. But I digress.
When I asked my class at the beginning of the semester who or what comes to mind when thinking of Filipino American artists, one student said, “Vanessa Hudgens.” I realized I didn’t know anything about this girl except for when she showed up in the gossip pages for taking nude photos of herself with her cell phone. We also talked about YouTube stars, which I think of as people coming up suddenly, and then what happens?
So my question is this: How can we talk about our works of art, our community artists, and our social concerns addressed in the art, in a language that is both challenging and accessible, and most of all, not fluffy and feelgood but critical?
Dear Filipino American Artist, If my student contacts you, please do talk to them.