Friday, July 30, 2010

Josephine Turalba: Art as unspeakable violence and malignant trauma intertwined with Filipino myth and folklore on the Fashion Catwalk

Josephine Turalba's installation art, which depict two “diwatas” dressed in high fashion and adorned with gun shells, is on display at the Manilart fair from July 30 to August 1, 2010, at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

Inspired by an unspeakable episode from her past where her father died from the barrels of guns in Laguna, Turalba refers to the diwata (or, “goddess.”) as “a goddess and guardian of the place – the Spirit – Genius loci. But, I dressed her with bullets. The dress is the present Diwata, the link from the past to the traumatized place in the present. She brings the forgotten trauma from the unconscious back to consciousness. DIWATA is a carrier of reflection and attempts to awaken people. She is not the guardian of the place anymore. She has transformed into the critical reflection of the place by warning and reminding people of who they were before the colonial times. She insists on questioning, investigating, transforming and re-defining her people’s identity today.

This bullet dress comprised of 1482 shotgun shells was conceived late 2007 but was finished in 2009, since the process of collecting these shells involved legal, social and cultural complications. The video (duration 2:04mins) was shot with a Sony digital video camera on location in Laguna, Philippines, the land of trauma. The work has been exhibited for the first time in Berlin, Germany on August 2009. “ (

University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman Department of Arts Studies Associate Professor Flaudette May Datuin, said in a critical essay entitled “The Trauma of the Scarab and the Phoenix” and displayed together with Turalba's art displays in the Manilart fair, that, “Dressed in various guises, diwata walks the streets of a crowded city, goes through desolate landscapes overgrown with weeds, and in a more recent work, parodies the language of glamour by performing exaggerated catwalks on a fashion catwalk.”

“Trauma, especially that which psychologists refer to as “malignant trauma” arising from atrocities inflicted by humans on fellow humans is so overwheling, so overflowing with meaning that it is beyond language ... malignant trauma thus represents that which cannot be symbolized and memorialized that which remains untouched, resistant and remaining outside of meaning and language draining the traumatized of her life and sense of humanity."

"Diwata as body, and as place and metaphordwells in the various runways and walkways, acting as the ultimate divine mediator, linking the living with the dead, our traumatic past with our nostalgic present. She is also a divine wirness and an inner drive; Diwata gives voice to deep resentments and sorrow. In the process of "her works," she brings the dead back to life through public mourning and remembrance. The mataphoric concept compels us neither to tolerate nor to look away, n not to turn our backs and most importantly, not to forget."

Editor's note: To enlarge the photos to see greater detail, just click on each photo.

(Photos by: Chanda Shahani)

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