Galleon Trade: An Introduction

Hi. Wofford here.

Shipping and Receiving is the news blog for Galleon Trade.
I thought I’d start you off with some background on our project.

Having spent time in Manila over the years and having been deeply inspired by the vibrancy of its arts community, I’ve dreamed about seeing more arts exchange happen between Manila and California for a while now.

In 2006 I had a solo show at Future Prospects in Manila, and also organized Manila Envelope, a show of work by my Manila artist-friends, for UC Berkeley’s Worth Ryder Gallery and Honolulu’s thirtynine hotel art space. Last summer, Rock Drilon of Mag:net Galleries also asked me to curate a show for their spaces, which is when the opportunity to realize Galleon Trade began. Lucy Burns of UCLA was enthusiastic about the project, and has since signed on as co-organizer.

Galleon Trade is the next phase of what I envision as a more ambitious, sustainable forum for trans-pacific arts alliances. (San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery will host Galleon Trade II, a subsequent future show of Mexican and Filipino artists, and we’ll get cranking on a Mexico venue for Galleon Trade III shortly, as well.)

It’s been really fun expanding the long-term vision for Galleon Trade. Initially, this project was motivated by a pretty simple desire to get more arts exchange happening with the Philippines, but it’s growing before my eyes into something bigger, and far more long-term than I would ever have imagined.

Galleon Trade I (heading to Manila in July!) features 12 innovative California-based artists whom I admire greatly. Their work ranges across numerous disciplines and conceptual practices. I invited them based on the quality and thoughtfulness of their art, their willingness to play inventively with the show’s theme, and their enthusiasm for going to Manila as unofficial arts ambassadors. It’s one thing to just have a show, another thing to make new friends and forge new creative coalitions. That’s what this “Trade” thing’s about, at its core: beyond just bringing the art, the value in bringing artists to connect and exchange with other artists is priceless.

To this end, there will be an associated series of lectures, salons and special events at local spaces during week 1 (roughly July 24-31). Finalized venue information is on the EVENTS page. A couple of venues are still being confirmed, so check back.

Some Context:

The Acapulco-Manila galleons were the legendary Spanish trading ships that sailed the Pacific between Manila , Philippines and Acapulco, Mexico from 1565 to 1815. The Spanish were the first Europeans to attempt to colonize the Philippines: their initial route was a one-way trip from Acapulco to Manila, until they discovered a viable route back across the Pacific via north-easterly trade winds and currents to California. The ships then followed the coastline south to Acapulco. The route became known as the “nao de la China”, or “the ship of China”: though the Philippines provided some products, it was goods and valuables from China and the Spice Islands which made the galleon trade so lucrative. Europe and the New World’s appetite for these Far East products was insatiable. China, in turn, coveted silver from the New World mines, which westbound galleons were loaded with.

Why “Galleon Trade”?

While the actual trade route clearly involved China and Spain directly (and also made calls in Louisiana), “Galleon Trade”, as a contemporary response to post-colonial and global concerns, has chosen to focus more on the relationships between California, Mexico and the Philippines. And while US arts awareness and exchange does occur with well-to-do European nations such as Spain, and industrialized, art-market-friendly Asian nations such as Japan, Korea and China, exchange with less economically stable Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines is shockingly rare. The potential for exchange and new opportunities for dialogues across the Pacific Ocean is enormous, and untapped.

California, Mexico, and Philippines share tremendous historical and cultural connections, but these have rarely been acknowledged in a creative setting. These post-colonial histories, contemporary transnational relationships, globalization, religious-, and commercial concerns all provide ample inspiration for creative output and dialogue across multiple communities. Statistically, Mexicans are the largest immigrant presence, and Filipinos are the largest or 2nd largest Asian immigrant presence in the USA, particularly in California. Despite these numbers, both groups have limited- to no representation in the US media, politics or the arts. Given California’s position as the primary locus of these two groups, it seems essential to open as many pathways to exchange and understanding as possible.

California, Mexico, and the Philippines also share thriving artist-run galleries and arts communities, despite respective economic challenges and lack of conventional/institutional arts funding. Galleon Trade aims to prove that grassroots international arts exchange can still occur despite such challenges: it will be critical as a new model and template for how this can manifest creatively.