Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Matatag Kami: We Are Resilient, conversation between artist Regina Gutierrez & curator Thea Quiray Tagle

For this next series of Storefront Window Installations we'll be pairing our exhibiting artists with other artists and curators for interview conversations. This spring we were pleased to host Regina Gutierrez's installation Matatag Kami: We Are Resilient.

Regina Gutierrez is a first- generation Filipinx born and raised in New York. Currently studying sculpture in their second year at the Rhode Island School of Design, Regina has found a multidisciplinary skill set necessary in expanding their art practice that centers transness, identity, and racialized bodies. Their work pushes forth informed concepts and self-respected mediums, embracing histories of metalwork, plaster casting, mural making, and personal writing. Actively involved in making art more accessible, they are familiar to public gallery spaces local to Long Island and Providence, including the Heckscher Museum, All County Art Exhibitions, The Baldwin Public Library, and Adelphi University, and The Providence Art Club showcasing work annually within these community driven spaces for the past 5 years. Outside of their public highschool’s art department, Regina has studied fine arts at NYSSSA, FIT, and Adelphi University, creating work that further projects their Filipinx identity onto the formally white framed gallery space. Into the periphery of their practice, Regina takes interest in Trans theory and sociology, and has been an assistant to the Head Pastry Chef at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, AKA likes baking, bikes occasionally, writes personally, and is an outspoken advocate for queer marginalized bodies within gallery spaces.

Below is a conversation between Regina and curator Thea Quiray Tagle

TQT: Regina, I wanted to begin by reflecting on the Tagalog phrase “matatag kami” that repeats in the background of your mural. It loosely translates to “we are stable” or “we are solid,” and I’d love to hear more about what kinds of solidity or stability this piece is gesturing towards. Filipino people in the homeland and in the global diaspora are often described by mainstream news outlets as “resilient” in the face of so much adversity– banding together as a community after a typhoon hits their island, or being strong despite living in poverty conditions. Were you thinking about these forms of resilience in making the mural, and/or did you have other kinds of stability in mind? 

RG: Of course! I’ve found a sense of home in being resilient through establishing community; but those forms of stability are unstable in themselves. No singular form of representation will ever capture each dynamic response to a colonized history and westernized culture. Recently I’ve been more interested in what it could mean to interrupt traditional means of stability: interrupt the impartial loving (though we are worth every moment of radical joy), I feel we must begin to meet each other’s eyes over stories of hurt. It seems counterintuitive in the way that dis-identification holds an often confused but obvious subversion of culture and code switching. I mean to say “matatag kami'' in a way that refutes everything yet still begs of embrace. I place my body between each matriarchal figure of my parent’s generation to force a dynamic sense of motherhood / being a daughter / niece / or sister to. I am only relative to any non-binary Filipinx that allows themselves queer visibility, but every moment of tension and relation held within my family proves this interruption of a generational landscape. The adaptability: the understanding cannot die. Loving is not to feel limited, it will bleed into every generation in the way pain carries too. I say this all now because stability will only come from interruption, and that is what builds resilience– even if it only begins in changing how we find each other beautiful for enduring so much. 

TQT: This mural centers a cut-out self-portrait, with two rows of faces radiating outwards from this point. The left side features the faces from your mother’s side of the family, and the right row of portraits represents your father’s side of the family. There is an interesting overlap and collision between the faces in each row, where individual features begin to blend together and where time becomes circular (no one looks older or younger than the person next to them). Can you say a bit about how you are thinking about family lineages and histories, and how your representations of your family break a linear or unidirectional timeline of understanding cultural inheritances? And do you have any specific names and stories about the people represented here that you’d like to share with the public? 

RG: I begin at the center, not as a focal point but as a base, creating hyper specific representation through varying physiognomy or obsessively projected Filipino features that become indistinguishable to a singular person. I don’t mean for it to be minimizing either. The multiplicity is ever present for me: especially in how my family history is relayed back to me.

Anyone is everyone &

From the left side: goes. 

My face laughing

Carmelita Gonzalez (my mom’s mother)

My face smiling

Laleine Gutierrez (my mom)

My face straight

Lola Apay (my dad’s aunt)

My face solemn

Grammy GoGo (my dad’s aunt)

My face gentle

Marking the similarities between each face, every expression memorialized in family photos of festivals and gatherings, it’s nice to find yourself in people you can only imagine as an extension of one singular thing. That thing simultaneously being so unifying yet torn apart: I can’t help but feel like these images from the 70’s and 80’s of relatives getting married, sharing a beer while floating in a river, or playing instruments lounging on an abandoned jeepney: I can’t help but feel like these are images of me. Similarly, I can’t help but feel there is no singular image of me at all. My face sandwiches these matriarchal figures but none of these faces are ours, they are the faces of every other face that finds itself in it too; embodying the confused generational disconnect or cultural bridge or radical joy and queer orientation. 

TQT: Related to the second question, I love the smiles of the people on the left panels of the mural. The literal and metaphoric connection between these figures is enhanced by the shared physiognomy of their mouths, but the similarities to me actually come out more through the feelings these images communicate– these folks look joyful, happy, perhaps all laughing at the same inside joke. I wonder if you think family resemblances come from shared genetic materials, or if you’re more interested in the shared cultural and social experiences Filipino folks have even if they don’t share the same blood? 

RG: Yes, entirely ! The shared cultural experience. That is what makes us, that is where I find parts of home– scattered across reference images used for this piece. The expressions allude to the stories and settings and community wherein the photos were taken. The idea of setting a hyper specific basis by borrowing these noses, my mother’s eyes, the way my grandma’s cheek bones curve when laughing, and the quiet smiles given by my great aunts– it is all to acknowledge those who understand while simultaneously projecting the representation for those that don’t live the similar experiences. It’s all so relative, but the expressions portrayed are for sharing– in every sense, between sharing the same smiles to showing you what our smiles look like.

TQT: If I can shift a little, one of my favorite aspects of this mural is its large scale and the refractions of light off the glitter sprinkled on the figures’ faces. Paired with the repeating text, these faces become queer in their excess– large, exuberant, bright. I know that you’ve only recently moved to working in this large scale– in the past year, you’ve made six murals! Can you share what working with glitter/bling on these larger surfaces has opened up for your practice? 

RG: Visibility. Definitely excess. Etherealness. Queer associations.  The glitter was honestly an afterthought, and perhaps an easy entry. As I note in the artist’s statement, I only wanted the words “Maganda Ako” to barely bleed through the skin. Though the bleeding does not have to be as visceral: the bleeding, or seeping rather, is something that cannot be helped. I think what I enjoy most of the glitter is how it creates this contrast in all of its subtlety. The glitter grows compliant in its subversion too, it follows the rules in the color blocking and is contained by the outline of the font– I think it’s presence is making me consider more how identifiable I want to be in the face of queer art. Is the association so necessary? Does it have to be obvious? Specifically in the face of queer abstraction, I’m still trailing between the use of concealment as a form of protection in contrast to highlighting specific focal points lingering between each face I paint.

TQT: I think it is so powerful to encounter Filipinx faces in a window front mural placed on a busy street corner in Olneyville, a largely Latinx community with first- and second-generation folks from the Caribbean, Central and South America. Because of our shared histories of Spanish colonization, US militarism, and migration experiences across multiple land and sea borders, I think of us as Filiprimos to the Latinx community! Do you think this mural helps open up dialogues about Filipinx-Latinx solidarity, and/or do you want the mural to do that? 

RG: I’ve been trailing through this book “Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules'' by Anthony Christian Ocampo that a Filipina friend lent to me earlier this year when I’d shared how difficult it’s been trying to understand my body within this institution littered with privilege: RISD. I keep lingering in this one chapter, “Filipinos Aren’t Asian” and Other Lessons from College where Ocampo interviews various students at predominantly white institutions along the west coast. I found myself aligning with a lot of the sentiments shared by these students, and that reoriented understanding of what it means to be Asian in America forced a disentanglement of my Filipino-Asian-American identity from this white washed version contained by the “model minority” myth. The term in itself is a form of erasure that only further perpetuates this whitewashed sense of othering, pitting marginalized bodies against one another and rendering the oppression of Asian Americans as invisible. I used to fear cultural tourism but came to realize that reclamation of culture is so much more valuable. I only hope the mural facilitates these kinds of conversations about internalized oppression as result of colonization, or at least provides a sense of community rather than imposed identity. Understanding where I lie in relation to it all is important to explicitly representing who I am through my practice and creating an image for those alike to find themselves in too.

TQT: My last question is about food. Maybe because I was raised in a Filipino Catholic household, when I see a line of faces/individuals in a painting, my mind immediately goes to the Last Supper prints that seem to be in every Filipino dining room or kitchen. If you and the family members in your mural were having their own Last Supper, what food would be on the table? (I would hope for kare-kare with bagoong, leche flan, and pinakbet at my family table, that’s for sure!!!). Thank you so much for making this work and for taking the time to talk with me about it. Maraming salamat!  

RG: Ah, classics. 

Spring picnic style, it’d totally be a lineup of:

Definitely kare-kare too, lumpia, pork barbeque.

Fried talapia with white rice and my mom’s homemade salsa.

Halo-halo, sapin-sapin with latik, and ginataang bilo-bilo as the sweet treats !

Oh and ambrosia fruit salad, perfectly chilled– almost frozen.

It’s been kind. Thank you Thea, sincerely.


Thea Quiray Tagle is a Filipinx femme curator, writer, and an assistant professor of queer studies and critical ethnic studies at UMass Boston. Thea is a co-curator for New York Now, a photo triennial at the Museum of the City of New York that engages themes and issues of the contemporary city.

photographer credit: erina c. alejo

This installation and interview were made possible in part through support from the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism.

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