Mas Masarap Magkasama
Maria Dumlao & Bahay215 (Nicky Uy and Omar Buenaventura)
Curated by Tina Plokarz
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia PA
April 16 – August 13, 2022
The multimedia exhibition Companions – mas masarap magkasama, by Filipino-American visual artist Maria Dumlao in collaboration with Filipinx group Bahay215, Nicky Uy and Omar Buenaventura, explores food culture as a vehicle for the human desire for belonging and rooting into a new environment. The exhibition features a series of interactive prints and site-specific installations that open a dialogue about ecology, authorship, and cultural authenticity in today’s intertwined environments.
For centuries, cultures and communities have defined themselves through food. What that food is, in turn, is defined by the local species that live and grow there, wild and cultivated. In the Philippines, this varies between the more than 7,000 islands that make up the archipelago, but often means tropical fruits and coconut, rice, pork, and seafood—giving rise to regional cooking techniques and family recipes like sinigang, a clear soup flavored with a local souring agent like tamarind; or laing, taro leaves cooked in coconut cream. Spanish colonization and American imperialism have influenced, and altered Filipinx food and culture, affecting people and plants alike.
In Companions – mas masarap magkasama (which roughly translates to “more delicious together”), visual artist Maria Dumlao in collaboration with Bahay215, a collective founded by Nicky Uy and Omar Buenaventura, explore what it looks like to be Filipinx in the United States today. What stories are told, and which are suppressed by colonialism and migration? And how can both be made visible in a respectful conversation that honors the past and sustains life into the future? The Visitor Center features a series of newly created prints by Maria Dumlao exploring what is omitted or uprooted in (neo)colonial narratives. As ‘displaced relatives’ connecting Asia, Europe, and North America, the emerging vegetation, species, and creatures tell hidden stories of indigeneity, food trades, migration, and acclimating environments.
Inside the gallery, natural and metaphorical ingredients from botany and commerce are assembled into colorful images: invasive knotweed in familiar landscapes, processed pork meat on pineapples, and buzzing honey bees populate homes, forests, and garden centers. Outdoors at the Visitor Center, two of Dumlao’s large-scale prints are accompanied by a bamboo structure, installed by Bahay215’s Omar Buenaventura and Nicky Uy and loosely inspired by stilt houses original to the Philippines called bahay kubo. The viewer can look through colored filter panels—like stained glass windows, and experience the stories and lives portrayed with different lenses.
This exhibition is part of the Schuylkill Center’s “Year of Restoration” in 2022, in which the art program embraces nature’s restorative and healing powers. As we learn to both protect our environment from and adapt it to today’s globalized world, and as we learn to adapt ourselves to new lands and changing climates, Companions breaks down the false dichotomy between nature and culture. Blending art, ecology and food, the exhibition explores how we, as individuals and as a community, define ourselves at home—through food, through plants, and through each other.