Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Skin Script" installation at Project Row Houses

When I was growing up in the Philippines I had no knowledge of Baybayin. It was assumed at my schools that we were an oral culture, and that Filipinos adopted Latin-based writing because we did not have our own. It was not until many years after I moved to the US that I discovered, much to my surprise, that Filipinos had their own form of writing—one that was related to Sanskrit and which predated the arrival and subsequent colonization of the Spanish from 1565 to 1898. In the early 1990s, artists and tattoo artists in California discovered the script buried in a few obscure academic studies and began to bring it back to life, literally, by enshrining it in ink on the skins of Filipinos in the US. It has since been resurrected around the world thanks to the Internet.

As an artist and a student of calligraphy and culture, I am fascinated with letterforms and their power to tell the stories of people—not just in the meaning of words but in the stories that are embedded in the gestures and marks themselves. In learning to write the script and piecing together its story through research and interviews, I felt like I was looking into a mirror reflecting my own story. Nylon, tar, nails, and vellum signify skin, sails, mark making, place (Houston),and the Internet. Tattooed on the outside of the house are the names of the young mothers in this community. The figure in tar is Maria Makiling, a popular nymph in Philippine mythology.

"Skin Script" installation at Project Row Houses

Part of the exhibition "Eco, Xiang, Echo: Meditations on the African, Andean and Asian Diasporas" curated by William Cordova and featuring the work of Glexis Novoa, Albert Chong, Coco Fusco, Ayana Jackson, Crystal Cambell, Marina Gutierrez, Keith and Mendi Obadike, Nsenga Knight, and me.

For a full description of the project, visit my project journal.

"Skin Script" from minette mangahas on Vimeo.