I was recently honored to be among over 50 Filipino poets, artists, writers, and poet-artists from around the world who participated in "Chromatext Reloaded," curated by Sid Gomez Hildawa, Jean Marie Syjuco and Alfred Yuson, and held at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines earlier this year. (More information about this historic exhibit is available at http://goodchatty.blogspot.com/2007/01/alfred-yuson-writes-feature-article.html).
My contribution was a visual poetry installation entitled "List(ing) Poem: Towards The New Filipino Society". The core of the installation is a "list poem" with each line the title of a book by Ferdinand Marcos. As I was born in the Philippines in 1960, the former dictator's legacy informs me and my family history. I would like to share the conceptual underpinnings to this work:
"Installation List Poem"
The installation includes five pieces of drawings/collages. They are intended to hang to form or reference a cross (Drawings Nos. 1 and 2 to be on either side of the three drawings—Nos. 3, 4 and 5—lined up vertically). The design evokes crucifixion—for "Eileen R. Tabios" or Filipinos were sacrificed (crucified) by the Marcos' dictatorship. Although the drawings can hang against a wall, they ideally would be pinned—still in the cross shape—against a red lush fabric (red velvet or red silk or red satin) because red denotes the color of blood.
Drawings Nos. 1 and 2 feature a print-out of the poem ripped apart to show my baby photo. Such denotes how I was part of the multitudes affected—and ripped apart—by the Marcos' reign. Also pasted are stickers of tsinelas, or flip-flops, a common footwear in the Philippines. I also conceived of the "rip" as the ripping out of Filipinos into the diaspora—in Drawing No. 4, the tsinelas are supposed to be walking away from the Philippines (or from the baby as I lived in the Philippines as a child).
"Detail from List Poem"
Drawing No. 1 also features in the bottom right corner some "ascemic" poetry created by me writing out my name and then writing "Marcos" over my name so that the result is not legible (ascemic).
The tsinelas stickers are first pasted in Drawing No. 3, before continuing downward on to Drawing No. 4. The first tsinelas sticker is aligned with the 10-11th line to reference my departing from the Philippines at age 10.
Drawings No. 3 and 4 feature my handwriting of the poem. There are the same number of lines as in the poem itself. But each line, in red ink, was hand-written as "Eileen R. Tabios." As of the 11th line, "Marcos" is handwritten over each line of my name. This symbolizes how I grew up outside the Philippines as of age 11. As time unfolds (as of Drawing No. 4), the "Marcos" becomes black marker ink to emphasize the editing out cum erasure of "Eileen R. Tabios." This references how the Marcos regime snuffed out the future of (or a certain better future for) many Filipinos.
The color red is initially used for handwriting the ascemic text because red evokes blood. When, in Drawing No. 4, the red changes to black (the ink color in most of my pens), the switch is to symbolize how life becomes a poem—I live out my poems before I write them.
Drawing No. 5 shows a blank page, except for the bottom line of "Poe[m]" melting into my name. This symbolizes how the final (if there is a final) legacy of the Marcos dictatorship has yet to be written, but that the poet (or poem)—not the dictator—will have the last word.
In a follow-up email, curator Alfred A. Yuson asked whether, in mailing my drawings to Manila , I placed the works between thick cardboard to prevent them from wrinkling. I replied, "They may get bent or folded but that could be fixed by you either framing them or temporarily placing them beneath some heavy books. But, frankly, if they come wrinkled or in messed up shape, that's OKAY with me, and feel free to hang them in that condition. That would fit my poetics of a poem being effective when it's 'used', or engaged with by the audience—even the blind audience of a postal system...."
I also suggested that the curators consider putting lechon, a suckling pig, on a table in front of and beneath the drawings—with an American red apple in its mouth. Such would evoke the involvement—the support—of past U.S. policies to the Marcos dictatorship. I added that the idea might be a good one since, during the exhibition opening, attendees then could eat from the lechon. Mr. Yuson didn't think the idea feasible since the opening's attendees would include Moslems. I didn't quibble with his response since it manifested respect for some of the anticipated visitors. In conceptualizing this installation, I thought it great that, unlike with how the Marcos reign unfolded, Respect would have the last word.
The following is the text version of my poem. I feel that to read each line, knowing that each line is the title of a book penned by Ferdinand M. Marcos, is to highlight the tragedy of how much potential the Philippines has lost as a result of corrupt politics:
List(ing) Poem: Towards The New Filipino Society
A Budget for National Self-Reliance
Achievement: The Incontestible Factor
An Introduction to the Politics of Transition
An Ideology for Filipinos
Ang Demokratikong Rebolusyon sa Pilipinas (The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines)
Challenge and Response
Demokrasya: Rebolusyon ng Ating Panahon (Today's Revolution: Democracy)
Essays on Aspects of Philippine Development Toward the New Society
Five Years of the New Society
In Search of Alternatives: The Third World in an Age of Crisis
Isang Ideolohiya Para sa Pilipino (One Ideology for Filipino)
Limang Taon ng Bagong Lipunan (Five Years of the New Society)
Marcos' Notes for the Cancun Summit
Nakatipontiponan Dagiti Dandaniw, Dallot, Sarindaniw, Salaysay, Sarita, Drama, Kankanta, Babaniw
National Discipline: The Key to Our Future
New Filipinism: The Turning Point
Notes on the New Society of the Philippines
Notes on the New Society of the Philippines II: The Rebellion of the Poor
Progress and Martial Law
Report to the Nation
Strength Through Crisis, Growth in Freedom
Tadhana: The History of the Filipino People (Destiny: The History of the Filipino People)
The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines
The Epic of Nation-Building
The Four-Year Development Plan of the Philippines
The New Philippine Republic: A Third World Approach to Democracy
The Philippines ' Stake in Vietnam
The Third World Challenge
The United Nations: 40 Years After
Today's Revolution: Democracy
Toward a New Partnership: The Filipino Ideology
Towards a Filipino Ideology
Towards the New Society
© Eileen R. Tabios