Art across the global Spanish empire – The Varsity

Upon entering the new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Faith and Fortune: Art in the Global Spanish Empire, you might expect to see the usual displays of awe-inspiring artwork saluting Spain’s colonial might. Instead, we both found a carefully curated exhibit that celebrates the art’s cultural roots through the Spanish colonies.

The culturally diverse nature of the exhibit shaped our personal experiences, leading us to eerily similar conclusions, despite our different backgrounds.

The art of the exhibition

For me, the exhibit was an introduction to a part of history that I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore before. Its unique format incorporates various mediums, from tapestries to pottery, and showed me that works of art should not be limited to paintings.

In an interview with the universityAssistant Curator Adam Harris Levine shared that he wanted the pieces on display to push audience expectations beyond the traditional display.

The diversity of mediums breaks out of the colonial narrative that only traditional Spanish artwork has value. During this time, all over the world, sculpture and tapestry are being created. As an artist with deep roots in Toronto’s Filipino community, guest curator Tahnee Ann Macabali Pantig wanted to use these pieces because they tell the story of people’s daily lives.

For example, in an interview with the universityPantig shared that bits of “embroidery [are] so much of the way [my Filipinx family and community] live their lives… Maybe it’s looked down on because it’s not in a gallery, or it’s not framed [but] it’s functional art, it’s creating something beautiful.

Levine and Pantig put the same care into every aspect of the show. Even plaques for various works of art used the term “Once Known Artist” instead of “Unknown Artist” as most galleries do because, as Levine said, the team “I wanted to emphasize that each object in the exhibition is an incredible work of art made by an artist.”

“History has privileged some of these artists in such a way that we know their names, and we know tons of details about them and it has completely ignored the others,” Levine added. The exhibition is, therefore, constructed to elevate the voices that we are not usually privileged to hear.

The community comes into play

The exhibition makes voices heard both figuratively and literally. To ensure it recognizes those who have been harmed by colonialism, the curators have consulted community members with strong ties to the countries represented for their stories. These were integrated into the audio guide and the end product is a powerful perspective on the artwork on display.

After listening to the audio guide, I could no longer see the artifacts presented as the triumphs of Spain, but rather saw them as evidence of the cultures they came from.

For example, in the sixteenth audio file, York University associate professor of dance, Patrick Alcedo, talks about Catholicism and queer identity. Alcedo describes how people in the Cebu region of the Philippines make Spanish Roman Catholicism resonate more with their identity through a ritual of putting ashes on their bodies to make them darker. This ritual celebrates their skin color and cultural identity instead of symbolizing death and rebirth as Roman Catholics intended.

Community consultations show how the history of Spanish colonialism still affects many communities hundreds of years later, reviving the pain and perseverance of colonized nations.

– Madeleine Szabo

Culturally Sensitive Exhibits

On the other hand, hearing stories of pain and perseverance from individuals affected by Spanish colonial rule compelled me to learn more about the exhibition’s goal of decolonizing art by focusing on Filipino voices. .

The immense amount of effort that went into creating this culturally conscious exhibit was hard to ignore with the story of every member of the community tied so deeply to the history of the exhibits. Asked about the inspiration behind the creation of this exhibit, Pantig talked about her family and closest friends.

“I hope Filipinos from all walks of life, recent migrants, long-time residents, young and old, will feel like this is a space they can come to on weekends or evenings. “, said Pantig in an interview with The University.

The exhibit’s warm atmosphere and carefully curated rooms embody a culturally diverse and welcoming space for individuals who have historically been overlooked in the art world. While I was visiting the exhibition, many art exhibits felt eerily familiar to me. I realized that many of the pieces were marked by the same intricate carvings and designs that I had grown up with in India.

Although Spain never colonized India, the many similarities with my culture in the art presented gave insight into the global impact of colonization, particularly on art, textiles and goods. commercial. As someone from a country with a history of colonization, seeing Faith and Fortune brought back a sense of pride and satisfaction in the artistic diversity of my own culture.

The empty daguerreotypes

One of the most interesting rooms in the exhibit was arguably a collection of rare daguerreotypes from the Philippines. Daguerreotypes are considered one of the first commercially successful photographic processes, and those shown at the AGO Faith and Fortune are one of the earliest sets of photographic images of the Philippines in recorded history.

While each of the selected images is beautifully presented, they remain strangely absent from human life. The images lack any evidence of human activity while depicting outdoor environments that are typically teeming with life in both urban and rural areas. For Pantig, the absence of humanity in these images acts as a tool of colonization, erasing the history and culture of the Philippines.

By accompanying these daguerreotypes with deeply personal stories from members of Toronto’s Filipino community, AGO Faith and Fortune breaks up the colonial narrative surrounding these images. “What was important to me about the show was bringing Filipino voices back into those images,” Tahnee said.

– Rhea Jerath


Ultimately, looking back on our experiences at AGO Faith and Fortune exhibition, we can confidently say that his deviation from traditional art led to a comprehensive and refreshing approach to colonial history.

We can only hope that future exhibitions will continue to focus on cultural diversity and community voices to provide an honest picture of our cultural and artistic heritage.

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