For three years before the Covid-19 pandemic, Philippine artist Cian Dayrit quietly wove the conduct of mapping workshops into his process of socially-engaged art practice. Visiting communities across different sites of struggle, plotting out and connecting stories of indigenous peoples, farmers, youth, and urban poor settlers on the ground was a means of learning from and giving back to a larger body politic. One recurring reality stood out across these diverse encounters: the impact and breadth of militarism across the archipelago, imprinted on individual memories and lives.
Schemes of Belligerence threads through Dayrit’s installations made since the global and national lockdowns of 2020. This forced pause, affording more space for tying together the experience of mapping trauma with critiques of state-led violence and right-wing militarism across the Asia-Pacific region, yielded a series of works spread across two biennales (Gwangju, 2020 and Bangkok, 2022) to the present. The exhibition brings together his collaborative tapestries and explorations into appropriating regalia and realia associated with the state’s armed forces.
The exhibition reimagines practices that enable the visibility of empire. The politics and power dynamics of mapping is certainly not lost on this artist, who is astutely aware of how the very history of colonialism and imperialism is premised on, and expands from, the act of accounting for territories, things, and people. Dayrit delves into the visual and material culture of such ethnographic displays, transforming the format of colonial archives and war trophies themselves into a form of counter-mapping and dissenting gestures from below.
The wooden objects made with Paete carver Felman Baglaso reference both Spanish colonial-era genre sculpture tipos del pais (types of the country) to model military figures, and their accompanying weaponry (such as rattan canes) for defense but more often, assault. The realia and regalia of modern military dress, appropriated and fashioned from surplus, is set against the straw salakot hat often associated with the rural class.
The quilt assemblages and collaborative tapestries re-frame ethnographic displays and textiles as a spatial repository of collective trauma and transnational violence. Stitched and sculpted, these depart from traditional motifs and embellishments celebrating the archipelago’s natural wealth, such as abaca, which is used for naval cordage worldwide. Instead these remind us of how flora, fauna, and native bodies are co- opted into an increasingly export-oriented and cash crop economy and neocolonial control over territories. The photograph-based works, referencing colonial archives, center on the figure of the native soldier and foreign troops, juxtaposing histories of puppetry, mercenary affinity, and masculinity.
In this overlay of practices, Dayrit offers a rethinking of how militarism is codified in mundane objects, bodies, and memories. By superimposing codes wrought from the trauma of war, Dayrit directly exposes the US’ role in military interventionism and totalitarianism across Southeast Asia and offers a moment of counter-coding against imperialism within and beyond the region.