Kultura Festival Chicago 2018
Co-Curation at the Field Museum
Since January 2016, I became a part of the Co-Curation Team at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, IL. The Field Museum holds over 10,000 objects from the Philippines that were collected by anthropologists from 1907 to 1910. Around 2012, a group of intergenerational Filipinx came together on a grant funded project to digitally archive 80% of the collection. This took 3 years of photographing, editing, and transcribing descriptions of 8,000 objects of the collection. You can now visit the online collection at philippines.fieldmuseum.org. Start by typing in the name of any object (sword, spoon, bowl, etc) in the search bar at the top right.
The Field Museum became a place of dialogue on current discourse regarding the Filipinx diaspora where the co-curation team held a monthly program series called “Pamanang Pinoy”. As a community we held discussions and presentations on gender, food, history of revolutions, tattooing traditions, etc. I lead an event on textiles, specifically focusing on weaving where I taught a backstrap weaving workshop. I demonstrated how to set up a backstrap loom from scratch using basic materials of yarn, wooden dowels, and cardboard. I learned how to backstrap weave by watching several youtube videos. Learning about these pre-colonial methods is important to build a larger understanding of where we are now as a diaspora.
Research Trip to the Philippines
I interned at a “sustainable fashion and textile” company in Cebu City, Philippines from September to December 2017. I will not disclose the name of this brand for personal reasons. During those few months, I learned about how this particular company was navigating the world of sustainable fashion, specifically working with weaving communities in the Philippines who work with hand floor loom weaving.
The brand had been working on a “zero-waste” collection, which means that all material used for making the garments was coming from reclaimed/used/up-cycled material. The company would receive scraps and large cuttings from a large fabric company. The scraps were left outside in the front yard of the warehouse, leaving it exposed to rodents, animals, and rain. Each zero-waste garment that was made had to come from these bundles of scraps which took time to sort and choose. The color choices and patterns solely depended on the scraps that were available. The company’s apparel/textile designer came up with a zero-waste weave using strips of scrap fabric to be woven together to create a new fabric. Large bundles of scrap fabric were brought to Paglaum Training International, an organization that helps under-resourced young adults in the metro Cebu City area. These young adults spent a few hours a day cutting strips of fabric and sorting the scraps for them to be brought to a weaving community to weave them into fabric. These pieces of fabric were then brought to Argao, Cebu for them to be woven. The fabric that was created from these strips were chunky and stretchy because of the lycra/scuba material. The weavers in Argao spent 6-7 days a week, 8-10 hours a day weaving. These weavers were over the age of 20 and had families to support. This community was almost solely depending on the company that I was interning at for the majority of their income. It was at the time that I began interning with them that they started an insurance program with their partner weaving communities. They also have contract sewers who work from their homes in Cebu City to move their production along. Their other major partner weaving community is in Bangued, Abra, Philippines. This community is much more established and has more weaving equipment and indoor facilities. They produce a majority of the binakol/inabel cloth, which is known for its geometric and almost psychedelic designs. They also produce kantarines cloth and a variety of plaids. Their work schedule is also very similar to those in the Argao community. This is unconfirmed but weavers make about 2,000 pesos ($20 USD) per woven bolt of fabric, which is 10 yards. It takes about one week for most weavers to complete 10 yards of fabric. This is a group of intergenerational weavers, most of whom are elders. Weaving is not seen as a reliable source of income for a better future, as young folks choose to go to college or work in a call center. Weaving is a laborious task and it takes years of practice to become as skilled and fast as some of the elders who practice weaving everyday. I spoke to one of the elders and there was a large period of her life where she was living and working outside of the Philippines as an OFW (Oversees Filipino Worker) and came back to the Abra to retire and now weaves daily. Some of the facilities at this establishment were supported by the owner’s daughter who is also an OFW.