Rizal in “bahag”: repression against racial repression
BAGUIO CITY – A miniature wooden statue of José Rizal in a cloak and “bahag” (loincloth) was the star of an impromptu art installation that Kidlat Tahimik, a national film artist, mounted on June 12.
It was Tahimik’s way of echoing today’s generation of the national hero’s strong disapproval of the way Filipinos were portrayed – or racially caricatured – at an international event. organized in its time.
Rizal then denounced the 1887 Philippine Exposition in Madrid for exhibiting Filipinos as in “a human zoo,” Tahimik, 78, said. So the acclaimed visual artist decided that a redesigned Rizal in native attire, especially that of the Cordillera people, was a fitting subject to mark Independence Day.
Tahimik (or Eric de Guia) wanted to keep the piece on display at Sunshine Park in Baguio until today, the 160th anniversary of Rizal’s birth, but it had to be dismantled and shipped to Spain on June 16 for another exhibition. .
The woodcarving is part of the larger installation where it occupies a stage in the shape of a “salakot” (native hat). It was last seen by the public at a location near the Baguio convention center, where city officials hosted the recent Independence Day program.
Entitled “MadExpo 1887”, the Rizal woodcarving depicts the national hero wearing a European-style cloak and a bahag, with a book in his hand.
“What did we hear about Rizal? Wow, he wrote his novels in Spanish because he was fluent in the colonizer’s language. Wow, he introduced a water system using western engineering. Wow, he operated on his mother’s eyes because he learned Western medicine, ”Tahimik said, recounting the thoughts that shaped his creation. “What message does that say? That we have to be westernized to make progress. But I firmly believe that underneath Rizal’s European dress is that thong, which is his fundamental Filipino nature that made him excel, not western culture, ”he added.
The exhibit prompted Rizal to write a letter telling his friend, German scholar Ferdinand Blumentritt, “Don’t mind the Filipino exhibit in Madrid. According to the newspapers and the information I have, it will not be a Filipino exhibition but an exhibition of Igorots, who will play their musical instruments, cook, sing and dance.
“But I pity these poor people,” Rizal wrote again. “They will be exhibited at the Zoological Garden of Madrid and with their simple and original clothes, they will contract a terrible pneumonia. This disease is very common in Madrid and even the people of Madrid catch it despite their coverage.
Archives describe the 1887 Madrid Expo as an event intended to foster trade ties between Spain and its distant Asian colony.
But, as Tahimik saw, the exhibit also showed the indigenous people of the Philippines and their artifacts to suggest that they were inferior to the educated Filipinos in the West. INQ
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