Balikbayan Box: Tracing a Strain

BALIKBAYAN BOX : Tracing a Strain 1998
1898 at the Bronx Museum for the Arts

DIWA examines the phenomenon of the balikbayan box as a by-product of Philippine colonization and a symbol of the Pilipino Diaspora. The balikbayan box measures 21″x21″x 21″, the maximum size travelers can bring on international flights. In metropolitan areas with significant Pilipino populations, these boxes are available for purchase, marked specifically with the words “BALIKBAYAN BOX” . The weight limit for this box is 70 lbs. In those 70 lbs. Pilipinos around the world attempt to cram economic prosperity, familial ties, obligations, memories of home and psychic fall-out.
In pseudo-scientific form DIWA artists will become a group of scientists /doctors/healers studying the Balikbayan Box as the link in the spread of Pilipino migration triggered by the colonization process.

In order to examine the Balikbayan Box phenomenon the DIWA
team of doctors and faith healer assemble at a maximum safety laboratory at an undisclosed location. Through extensive study of the live subject, the Balikbayan Box, they analyze the box and the historic implications of this exobiological organism as it grew out of first contact with colonial organisms. The results show that at present transmission is primarily airborne and that is it composed of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon, the basic elements of life on earth. It appears however, to have evolved in a totally unique way. It consumes plastic, leather, spam, electronic products, chocolate and steak. Only gas, light and corrupt customs officials affect it. There are no excretions. It consumes everything and wastes nothing. Emotional, physical and intellectual energy is converted to matter. The growth medium is the box itself. It divides and mutates at the same time. The bio map traces its growth and potential spread. The petri dishes contain complex Balikbayan cultures that are the result of extreme conditions. The magnifications scan the box interior in an attempt to better understand how Balikbayan energy is converted into very particular forms of matter.

DIWA Arts was a Bay Area coalition of Pilipino-American Artists, video makers, educators and performers. Since 1986, DIWA (meaning ‘idea’ or spirit’) acted in a dual capacity as initiating interaction and communication within the Pilipino-American community, and as a conduit for that community to represent itself within the larger forum for cultural expression. To its members, DIWA served as a place for the discussion of artistic ideas and processes within the context of shared cultural values and experiences.

DIWA exhibited in the Bay Area at the Mission Cultural Center, the SOMAR Gallery, New Langton Arts, San Francisco Art Institute, Capp Street Project and the Richmond Art Center. Outside of the Bay area DIWA showed at the Davis Art Center and in Canada as part of a traveling exhibition curated by the University of California at Irvine Gallery. DIWA members exhibited their individual work as well as creating specific works for each new context.

DIWA’s work includes Extended Family: 250,00 Pilipinos created at New Langton Arts in 1990. DIWA worked with acme fifty individuals and organizations to collect over six thousand family snapshots with which the installation was made. This enormous photo album served to tell the layered stories of this largest yet least visible Asian population in Northern California.

In August of 1993, DIWA created Jeprox for the San Francisco Art Institute’s 112th Annual Exhibition. This project brought together members of the Pilipino-American community to created a massive diagram that attempted to map out the current state of Pilipino-American identity.

At the Richmond Art Center DIWA created an installation that commented on the history of the discovery of the Philippines by Magellan and Lapu Lapu the hero that killed him. Comparisons were made with the United States military presence represented by the famous landing of General Douglas MacArthur.

Through 1997 DIWA participated in “Memories of Overdevelopment : Philippine Diaspora in Contemporary Art”. This touring exhibition started at University of California, Irvine Art Gallery and then went to the Sweeney Art Gallery at the University of California, Riverside. It then went to Plug In Contemporary Art in Winnipeg , Canada.
In 1998 Lydia Matthews article “Camp Out, Queer Performance in the Bayanihan Spirit” written about DIWA’s Santa Cruzan performance at Capp Street Project was published by New York University’s The Drama Review.