Everyday objects: how poverty and plastic are reshaping contemporary Filipino tribal art
Deirdre McKay (Keele University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores everyday objects - baskets, bags etc. - made by indigenous peoples in the northern Philippines. In rattan and wood, these objects are tribal art. Made from plastic, these objects subvert ascribed indigenous identities and question the categories of both art and poverty.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores objects created by contemporary indigenous Filipino artisans and artists who work with plastic. Plastic materials are sourced from domestic and industrial waste or 'liberated' from commercial enterprises. Artists and artisans use plastic to replace wood and rattan in objects made with 'traditional' tribal skills. Dealers and collectors see plastic art objects as problematic because they disrupt the fictions of continuity, atemporality and cultural isolation on which a continued market for Filipino tribal art depends. By using plastic materials, indigenous artists position themselves as 'not tribal, just poor'. In Filipino, 'plastik' denotes insincerity, inauthenticity and unreliability, as well as being the cheapest, most accessible material - the material of the poor, which clogs their living areas, underpins their squatter shacks and figures strongly in their purported preferences for bright, kitsch and easily-disposable home and personal decorations. Plastic, cheap and widely accessible, enables artists and artisans to call into question the stereotype of the poor as a-cultural, while refiguring their relationship with waste as a positive one. The paper explores an exhibition of collaborative work created by artists and artisans, juxtaposing their intended messages with the responses of dealers, collectors, cultural critics and the general public to plastic tribal art. Focusing on the social contexts of art production, circulation and reception that define - or reject - plastic objects as art, the paper asks what happens to 'the poor' as a category when tribal artists appropriate the materiality of poverty to their political interventions.