Image from The Dean C. Worcester Photographic Collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Visualizing Cultures) / dw08f021: In addition to taking photographic images, Worcester and his colleagues also recorded Filipino voices. But visual accounts of Filipinos using Western technologies—as in this image of a phonograph—often suggested the cultural inferiority of Filipinos.

Kundiman para sa mga salbahe (Love songs for the savages | If it were not for the savages)

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2022

Iris Ferrer writes about her conflicting feelings after moving from the Phillipines to The Netherlands. Currently she presents a collection of transmissions for and by people from the equator at De Appel in Amsterdam, which she curated as a curatorial fellow in corporation with Kent Chan and Julian Abraham 'Togar'.

“I am desperate for warmth,” says the person from the tropics. You are unaware if they mean the literal cold or the figurative one. All you know is there is a recognition of the cold --- one that is unbearable and scathing to the skin.

“You are here to survive and not really to find warmth,” answers the other from Singapore. “Maybe learn to dress better. Come, I know a shop that sells good coats.”

We are grateful for the opportunity to be here. The infrastructure in our home countries does not allow for funding, or even space to exist and persist. Culture is a luxury, saved for the elites to buy and to make fulltime.

We are grateful to exist. We are grateful to have something international to add to our resumes to prove our value as cultural practitioners, as people. We are grateful for the jumpstart this gives to our careers.

But what does it mean to exist: to be listed in one’s networks? Or, to have the chance to have your name known and recognizable? To be able to produce a project that glorifies the chance of it being led by one who is non-white? For a moment, there is joy in the articulation of our being in their address books. For moments, you are grateful that you are surviving.

It might be unfair to search for the same warmth. Anyone who has travelled this far for the first time will recognize a different kind of blue, a different kind of yellow, a different kind of brown and a different kind of green, even if you are looking at the same sky, the same sun, the same ground and the same trees. Staying beyond the length of visitor’s visa, one starts to feel disconcerted and overwhelmed. You say, it seems our eyes were not built for this gray.

For some reason, even the sun that shines gives light more than heat. So, you say to yourself, maybe light is enough for warmth. In those tallied junctures of time, you sit in the park drinking beer with a friend while daring to slightly open your coat to soak it all in. Once again, you are grateful.

You become immensely grateful for these pockets of heat --- individuals that see you beyond your skin color or your skills that warrant being part of a checklist for the next grant application, but for your presence as a human being. You become indebted to them in desperation, as a pining lover would.

We are grateful for the space to breathe. We are grateful for the freedom we are afforded.

You tell yourself that at least one does not need to go through the threat of death when smoking weed.

To be in constant crisis mode means to always hold your breath; to be in constant crisis mode means you need to be always vigilant and questioning, because it is the only way to survive. For a while, you blame yourself: that maybe you are not used to the order; that when people say they will come at a certain time, they will actually arrive because there is no traffic to blame. You say that you are not used to public transport working properly, and even get to the point of complaining when it is 10 minutes late --- an unimaginable notice in your home country. You laud them for their effectiveness that you never really saw growing up. You fear going home and not being able to take the waiting time any longer.

To be here means losing one’s peripheral vision --- a skill you lose despite rushing bikers, says another from Colombia, “but hey, at least you know they won’t run you over.” You notice how there are no guns strapped on security guards at establishments or gates at homes; that no matter how drunk you get your wallet can still be claimed. There is no direct atmosphere of fear --- at least the way that you have been accustomed to.

You create events (films, exhibitions and roundtable discussions) around these thoughts, because that what artists and art workers do.

“It’s strange how they don’t know how to hang out,” says one from Indonesia. One wonders as well, how something so familiar and so simple is so hard. You mimic wise words from a woman from Israel in that maybe it’s the Calvinist traditions that prioritizes efficiency and transaction. Because there is no other reason found, he nods in agreement. To break the silence, he quips “Even the noise (or lack thereof) is different.” You laugh in response because of its truth. On your way home, you regret not commenting that even the rain sounds different for some reason.

Several people question your English accent and ask if you’ve lived elsewhere in your childhood. You give a nervous laugh, say it’s your westernized education at home, and give a convoluted reasoning of how the Americans came and benevolently assimilated everyone through formalized education after 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. You internally become confused, as to why it’s not possible to be from Asia but to be speaking good English in the first place. You look away from every comment and joke of mistaking you to be coming from other countries than your own. For you, it’s fair game anyway because you also have a hard time differentiating them.

“I’m so glad I’m not the only one that can’t ever be used to the cold,” says someone you meet for the first time. You are too, but you hold back from admitting it because this means admitting the wounds you’ve been carrying. In a world of efficacy and self-reliance, you do not dare, for the life of you, to admit weakness.

You study their funding, their policies and envy its articulations, especially when the government at home does not even care to try to make one for you. At some point however, when the disruptions in the calm are made visible, you realize how hollow words can sometimes be; how claims of maturity and logic are not enough; and that problems cannot be solved if they are not recognized as problems.

And before you know it, you adapt: You adjust your clocks to daylight savings --- which you have never encountered or understood. You buy the ‘proper’ coat, boots and waterproof bag. You identify what ‘chicken’ and ‘cheese’ mean without having to use Google translate. You find people; you survive; and you learn your stakes.

We are again grateful to be surviving. We are grateful for the opportunity to be persist --- chances that have become an impossibility where you’re from and even more so with the onset of this pandemic.

“After all, it is pretty, isn’t it?”

You can’t help but agree. And you truly are grateful to be here.


LOVE SONGS FOR THE SAVAGES (Kundiman para sa mga salbahe) - De Appel, Amsterdam, 14.6-4.7.2021

Iris Ferrer
is a curatorial fellow at De Appel

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