Personal Stars: Maia Cruz Palileo at Monique Meloche Gallery

She has finally come, born across centuries and oceans and the yawning gaps of the pied world hewn for us and by us from the flesh and bone of the Earth, across the ragged expanse—flesh hanging like foliage, necrotic, mycological and un-healing as the hearts of men (men especially, here, not “men” as the priapic stand-in for all humankind, which is a fucked up way to think and really truly indicative of the kind of men we are being dealt with here, men who happen upon a glorious verdant chain drawn across the vicious expanse which hides in it the horrors of our world, the planet's calid sacred heart, the shifting red, the immolating ring born on the Jovian finger of the true ruler who we have betrayed, just like we're betraying each other, or more specifically in this case these men are betraying each other), the men whose claret-caked hands have driven the bayonet, twist the aperture far beyond the fibrin, wipe clean the entrails and drive forward again—and she has freed, has excised, has extricated the men's targets, with a deific scalpel, debridement as deliverance, from the burdens of white men, from the alien words which fall hard, knocking teeth over like tombstones—cultural vandalism!, vandalism-cum-conquest, petty and political, in the sense of all structures being re-sorted, the scaffold a literal skeleton—as they drop like a bird kill; has cut them free of the white cloth which is the funeral veil of their own humanity, the very backdrop to the cruel slavery of scare quote science before which they pose dead on and in profile, the twin portraits of prisoners and objects, and placed them instead in the tabula rasa of a sympathetic and empathetic framer …

and now sails rend a seamless and blank sea and sky, chairs sit like thrones and people stand yet again against a white backdrop, the white of a blank page, and in their posture now is the easy, unconscious affect and agency of a life which is their's again, their forms and fronds and fawns and fowls rendered in enamel and buff and waiting to be imbued, this world the color of brumal brume, granted carbon-based life or saturated with the humanity-affirming shades of Damián Domingo, an entire world born from, among others, a vicious book and a righteous eye, driven by vision and heart and placed atop the inherent tension, the liminality of who we are or are made to be.


Maia Cruz Palileo | Installation view of rubbings. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo by RCH Photography.


All identity is chimeric; it is, by the very nature of how we are born—in a cellular cocktail—the benefit and burden of all of us to be an amalgamation of others. The differences, then, are due society rather than sexual reproduction, and are of degree—how different the cultures, how distant the sides, who is dictating the disparate element of ipseity we call culture, key to the question of identity. All are social constructs, and by definition are beholden to the whims of society; the question, then, is who has shaped the society before you?


Identity and belonging—and the forces that have shaped them, often at gunpoint—are central to All The While I Thought You Had Received This,  Maia Cruz Palileo's solo show at Monique Meloche Gallery. An assay of her own Filipino identity, the works reclaim culture from the ethnographic, cut figures free from colonial history, and to this cruelly factual element add flesh, color, life, via the art of her forebears and her own, the reaches of her memory and long familial belaying.


Inside the Newberry Library is a complex society and country denigrated—defiled—by comparison; with and without clothes, to each other, to the white man taking the pictures, to the standards that white man is carrying—that his contemporaries are carrying—of who is and isn't deserving of a culture unmolested. The collected photographs of Dean Conant Worcester, whose Google entry deems him an “American Zoologist”—which really sums up the fucking evil of the thing, doesn't it?, because those photos are not of animals—are a testament to the vicious and lamentable sciences of ethnicity in vogue at the turn of the century, the attempt to justify, with empirical (fuck) data, the unjustifiable stratification of human beings; to codify dehumanization. The photos feature the various peoples of the Philippines as if insects on a pin, juxtaposed with each other or even Worcester himself, often times posed before a blank background, a sheet which, at least in the film, is white. It was these figures that Palileo freed from “science's” tyranny and which now enjoy the blankness not of erasure, but potential, on Monique Meloche's wall, their essence captured in the hand which made them, the eye which placed them, and the very site specificity of their composition.


Palileo animated elements of these figures with, among other influences, the sympathetic saturation of Damián Domingo, non-discriminate disseminator of art and patron of Philippine painting; the uncanny elements of the dean of Filipino letters Nick Joaquin; and the memories, experiences, and knowledge already borne by her blood and brain. They are infinite ways this cultural and historical pastiche can be arranged; most importantly of all is who is doing the arranging.


Maia Cruz Palileo | Magic Fire, 2019. Oil on canvas, 52 x 50 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.


It is a truly chimeric origin, and the works which result feature the element of the sublime which so shook Bellerophon, aspects of the impossible approachable only by winged steed. At first blush simple portraits and stills, the figures are frayed, fungible as memory and identity themselves, the scenes set in colors too rich and full, floral in the shade and softness, all velvet and smoldering ash, attributed the depth achieved by a dense canopy and all the unsettling beauty and mystery of the Tropical Gothic, the Filipino style—embodied in Joaquin's work of the same name, the folklore collected by her own grandmother in a book she has fittingly not yet found—of the spiritual energy which flows through and animates all cultures.


Maia Cruz Palileo | They Dreamed in English, 2018. Oil on canvas, 48 x 62 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.


Shadows bulge and creep, emerge on their own and take on a variety of forms; are the black adumbrations across the British Racing Green of an English classroom's chalkboard the remnants of the students, flashed across one font of colonial control by the violence which opened the school? Are they mere drawings, sloughed-scale wounds of a broken board, or the inevitable damage of moisture? Or perhaps they are outside, silhouettes through a window, the whole thing not a chalkboard at all? Across an entire suite of paintings dedicated to the teaching of English—Palileo's grandmother was an English teacher—her trenchant uncertainty epitomizes the uncomfortable history of English education as a tool of coercion and suppression, yet also the most famous tongue of one of the Philippines' most famous authors; nothing is simple.


By magic baylage being Filipino as Palileo personally chooses is colored; by her own actions perspectives are offset, figures gifted levitation, adrift as if being considered, and rope, hung in the hands of a boy who is no longer there, is elapid in spirit, form, and evocation. From the freed figurative library on the wall, from the paintings of Domingo, from her own experiences and memories and forms and essences are coalesced personal stars with which to navigate identity.


– B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor


Maia Cruz Palileo | Installation view of rubbings. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo by RCH Photography.

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