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Modern-Day Galleon Trade Sets Sail
By Cheeko Ruiz
Sunday, August 19, 2007


Nearly two centuries after it ended, the famous Galleon Trade that brought riches to Europe is again navigating its old routes around Mexico, California and Manila. Two weeks ago, a Galleon Trade ship docked in Manila, carrying loads of contemporary art instead of spices and stoneware of the olden days.

The ship captain is Filipino-American artist Jenifer Wofford, who organized the exhibit, together with twelve Filipino-American and Mexican-American visual artists based in California: Julio Morales, Jaime Cortez, Gina Osterloh, Johanna Poethig, Eliza Barrios, Richard Godinez, Enrique Chagoya, Michael Arcega, Reanne Estrada, Stephanie Syjuco, Megan Wilson and Christine Wong Yap.

The artists exhibited paintings, sculptures, photography, installations, video art and performance art in three locations – Mag:net Gallery Katipunan, Mag:net Cafe High Street and Green Papaya Art Projects at UP Teachers Village in Diliman, Quezon City. The modern-day Galleon Trade seeks to initiate a continuing art exchange program between Filipino-American and local artists.

In a statement posted at the Galleon Trade website, Wofford said the exhibit aims to create new routes of cultural exchange along old routes of commerce and trade. It is out to make the Pacific Ocean smaller, by creating a sustainable template for innovative new kinds of grassroots arts exchange.

Mag:net gallery owner Rock Drilon sas the Galleon Trade project is not only about exhibition. “Exchange means immersion,” Drilon says. “All of these artists have some kind of connection to the Philippines.”

This connection they tried to enrich during their stay here, as they visited places like Quiapo to rediscover the beauty of their motherland.

The term “brain drain” connected to their migrating parents is no longer applicable to these Fil-Ams, Drilon says. In fact, from “brain drain” the integration of arts and culture may even lead to relocation.

The journey was not easy for Wofford and the rest of the pack. The project entailed about a year of planning. It took off despite the lack of government funding from both ends.

Drilon says the artists worked on very limited resources. “Before coming in (to the Philippines), they raised some money to fund their project,” he says.

Even the closure of Mag:net Paseo and ABS, which were supposed to host two of the three simultaneous exhibitions one month prior to the opening, did not break Wofford’s spirit. Green Papaya generously hosted the component meant for Mag:net ABS while The Wall in Mag:net Cafe High Street absorbed the Mag:net Paseo component.

Just like any other traveling show, there were limitations to the Galleon Trade project.

Drilon believes the artists still have more to show than what was seen in their works. “They had some restrictions because of the nature of a traveling show wherein you have to transport the art pieces,” he explains.

The shows had three separate, festive openings on the last week of July. All were jampacked with the curious, the enthusiastic, local artists included.

The Fil-Ams were warmly welcomed at The Wall with sound works by Sabaw and percussions by Pinikpikan. Sculpture pieces, meanwhile were distributed at Green Papaya while an art talk/ dialogue took place at Mag:net Katipunan.

Drilon says the participants were visibly overwhelmed by the reception they got, and are in fact worried that they will not be able to reciprocate this when it’s the turn of the Filipino artists to hold exhibitions in California and Mexico.

The crowd was likewise amazed with the concept of the project and the creative pieces that were featured.

“I think they’re fascinated, because it’s not the usual conventional paintbrush canvas. The site-specific installation in the comfort room of Mag:net Katipunan, for example, is very Filipino”, Drilon shares. “Actually what they (the artists) have done, you’d be surprised that somebody initiated it. It’s just a case of bringing in ideas or hope and inspiration.”

Apart from the exhibitions, university roundtable discussions organized by Galleon Trade co-organizer and curator Lucy Burns were held at the Ateneo De Manila, University of Santo Tomas and the Living Room.

The Galleon Trade project begins in Manila and continues with reciprocal projects in San Francisco and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.

Indeed, art and culture interactions between the Philippines and the Americas, North and South, may have been lost over the centuries. But with the help of the fresh concept of the Galleon Trade, the search for a new shipment of hope and inspiration has started.

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