Filipinos have been under intense visual scrutiny since the start of Spanish colonialism in the 16th century. It continues through to this day.
With Empire's Eyes: Colonial Stereographs of the Philippines, the Center for Art and Thought has partnered with the California Museum of Photography at the University of California at Riverside ARTSblock to publish a selection of stereographic images of Filipinos and the Philippine Islands that were taken shortly after Spain ceded the islands to the US in 1898. The stereographs are a part of the largest collection of stereographic negatives and prints in the world called the Keystone-Mast Collection.
The stereographs in the exhibition were meant to entertain and educate viewers through optical illusion. Using a stereoscopic device people saw the stereographic views in 3D. Stereographs of the everyday life of Filipinos did entertain and educate viewers but did so at a cost. While these quotidian images may seem benign and even boring, they were powerful in teaching Americans about Filipinos as an inferior race, as other. And, in many ways, they maintain their power to this day, archived and accessible online.
Empire's Eyes also does not include pictures of Filipino casualties or scenes of military battles in the islands. Those images are well documented and are often the first to reproduced whenever the American colonial period in the islands is the subject matter. These scenes of Filipino deaths and destruction obscure other forms of photography's representational violence. Images of Filipinos going on with their everyday lives-taking an afternoon nap, cooking, or even getting a haircut-were as effective as ones of wounded or dead Filipinos in conveying a people lazy, uncivilized, and alien to ordinary Americans who participated in the act of viewing stereographs with friends and families, in homes and schools throughout the country.
In light of global anti-immigrant sentiments in countries raging across Europe and current debates about the undocumented, most of whom belong to communities of color and the portrayal of them as criminal and deviants by many who govern the United States, Empire's Eyes arrives at a time when issues of race and representation are as relevant as they were over a century ago. The exhibition resurfaces these everyday stereographic views to reveal not only the parallels of current visual technologies to historic ones but to ask viewers to consider the ways photography-digital or analog-continue to shape how we view and know Filipinos and other communities of color across space and time.
Jan Christian Bernabe, Ph.D.
The stereographic images will be published in staggered waves from March to April 2018, after which the whole exhibition is archived permanently on CA+T's website.
Special thanks to Leigh Gleason and the California Photography Museum for providing assistance for this exhibition.
Fiscal support has been generously provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation and the California Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Scholarly articles included in the exhibition are authored by Nerissa Balce, Melissa Banta, Vernadette Gonzalez, Mark Rice, and Neferti Tadiar.