A solo exhibition by Cian Dayrit
Comprised of new paintings and an assortment of found objects, “Allegories of Nation-Building” touches on the violence behind visual acts of representing the Philippines as both nation and territorial state.
Cian Dayrit essays interrelated roles of artist, curator, collector and critic in this exhibit. Making and gathering archipelagic motifs, he intentionally clusters images and things them in a manner reminiscent of souvenirs or foodstuffs peddled to tourists or everyday things displayed as exotic curiosa and folk psychedelia. Heavily sensate and symbolic, these stories points to how a larger ideological and structural project is at work behind the novel tropicality of it all. Dayrit’s works source their visual cues from symbols and scenes, continuously deployed across the archipelago, to reinforce the notion of nationhood: an imagined community, to appropriate Benedict Anderson’s usage of the term, that has historically shifted from colony to neoliberal enclave.
The exhibition resulting from this exercise is a satirical accumulation of statist, unstable and mixed up symbols. Each is seen and referenced so often that their character as unnatural representations are taken for granted: embedded in educational materials; enacted through officially-deployed objects such as seals, flags and monuments; and experienced as emblems, crafts and strange artifacts. Through Dayrit’s visual interventions and juxtapositions, we are made to reckon anew with these different insignias of identity and power, visual markers and documents of mapping and planning, and auto-ethnographic artifacts. these are also assertions and articulations of ideology, manifest in the most common of things.
Such iconographic research and exploration yields difficult questions. What, for instance, is a nation, in the face of contemporary conditions of flux and precarity? Should the representation of nation be reduced to a singular (and, occcasionally, unsavory) figure or face, an unsuspecting animal, a solitary plant introduced from foreign lands? How does one capture the complexity of social struggle in seemingly defined and unified ways? What kind of memories do our monuments erect and enable? Can the vision of a collective (or conflicted) community really be captured in shiny blueprints and plans for the future, created by and for the benefit of a few entrenched entities?
The exhibit can also be apprehended as the artist’s own process of taking stock: accounting for questions, trails of thought, and wandering observations in order to develop an informed response to contradictions present across Philippine society and history. In gathering, appropriating, and accumulating icons of national import—whether from the lingering colonial past or looming neoliberal present—Dayrit’s iconographic explorations point to how everyday indoctrination into state ideology is writ large and in ways that touch us all.
Words by Lisa Ito