Consuming My Country

My home is not what I remember. Throughout university, I met people who saw the Philippines as a nation of insignificance. As nothing but a remote cluster of islands somewhere in Asia, its churches corrupt and its immaculate waters unknown. During my time in London, one of my students asked about my upbringing; as we munched on butter biscuits by the playground, stale crumbs dusting our laps, I told her about my country. “The Philippines?” she frowned. “Is that in China?”

Those moments of ignorance are now gone. More than three years ago, in a room overlooking the Arabian Gulf, I first feared for my country—what was once nothing to millions of people has been shoved into the spotlight, the pinnacle of conversations among taxi drivers and teachers, misogynists and mutineers, nurses and narcissists, cheaters and children. As I studied literature and theater in the Middle East, tens of thousands of deaths surfaced back home. Until now, the police continue to slaughter Filipinos without trial. Children and innocent people are caught in the crossfire. Human rights activists risk their lives to protest for freedom.

And I am oceans away as my country suffers.

*

When the media first began broadcasting the deaths, I made halo-halo. In the shared kitchen of my dormitory building in Abu Dhabi, I had one way to connect to my home: by consuming it.

Of all the desserts my country offers, there is nothing I find as quintessentially Filipino as halo-halo, a layered treat made of shaved ice, evaporated milk, and mix-ins of your choice, from plantains and tapioca pearls to jackfruit and sweetened beans. There’s no set method for making the perfect halo-halo—as its Tagalog name implies, you mix whatever you have layered in your serving glass, and somehow, as if by magic, the random assortment works. Throughout my childhood, I constantly craved the crunch of sweetened ice, the sugary red beans between my teeth, the explosion of jackfruit on the tip of my tongue. My parents would order their halo-halo with a piece of leche flan and a scoop of ube ice cream on top—now, I cannot have it any other way.

Although it is a staple Filipino dessert, halo-halo is most likely an indigenized version of kakigōri. Before the Philippines’ war on drugs and long before World War II, Japanese migrants brought this dessert to my country. The kakigōri in Japan consisted of shaved ice sweetened with syrup; the addition of fruit preserves and other mix-ins occurred after Japanese farmers settled in the Philippines and began experimenting with local offerings. Over time, Filipinos threw in other ingredients, from creamy caramel custard to bright purple ube ice cream. Nowadays, you can find variants of the same dessert in different Philippine provinces, from a version in Pampanga with creamed corn and pastillas de leche to a “spicy winter” halo-halo in Laguna topped with jackfruit and chili peppers.

As I crushed ice that day in my dormitory’s tiny kitchen, I contemplated these versions of halo-halo, how they had changed over time and taken on unexpected new flavors. In that moment, I thought about the version of my country that not everyone gets to see: a Philippines untainted by war. The Philippines I love is congested cities, chocolate hills, and rice terraces carved by farmers and the palms of God. It is hours of traffic and electricity cuts and the rice cooker’s song when dinner is ready. Fried fish balls sold by street vendors and jeepneys with a smiling Jesus painted on each side. Finding a sewing kit in a cookie tin and frozen leftovers in an ice cream container and leaving your shoes by the door before entering a room. It is remembering home every time I dig a spoon into a tall glass of sweetened ice. 

*

The day after I made halo-halo, I taught a friend how to prepare it. We layered the ingredients while discussing the dessert’s origins. My friend, who had grown up in Seoul, mused on the similarities between halo-halo and patbingsu, a Korean dessert made of shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, and red beans. We ate near a television in the student lounge, the afternoon news droning on behind us. As a report of the latest deaths in the Philippines appeared, my friend struggled to speak, pity painting her face. I stared at the remains of my halo-halo, now a soupy mess of milk and melted ice. I wondered if other people would act this way around me. Would I change the topic if someone asked about the current events of my country? Would I feel ashamed to mention my origins, aware of how my country has changed since I left?

No. My home is not what I remember, no longer insignificant to the world. Despite my country’s flaws and my fear of returning to a place where no one is safe from a stray bullet, I am still Filipino. I admit there is a certain nostalgia I took for granted, a simpler time when my country’s name inspired curiosity, not sympathy. For someone like me, so far from home, my emotions are now as layered as my favorite Filipino dessert. I am glad the world has shown concern for the Philippines. But I am heartbroken too, for my country’s name has become synonymous with violence, a human rights disaster in the making. Fear trickles into my frustration. I am useless to my friends stuck back home. Guilt seeps into my shameful sense of relief. I am privileged to be somewhere safe with my family. As the daily news reports on the latest turmoil, I watch events unfold from afar, my despair mixing with a never-ending sense of helplessness. 

These feelings consume me as I consume my country. I fear that the world will always see my home as a place of violence and nothing more. I will speak with anyone willing to discuss its current state, and I will try my best as a Filipino who hasn’t been home in half a decade. But I cannot stand and watch as the Philippines is typecast yet again—I must continue to talk about my country, a beautiful mess beyond the ongoing chaos. The Philippines is my homeland, the only one I will ever have, and it is more than the fleeting topic of some short conversation. It is more than a trend or a news headline. Countries are always more than the wars that plague them.

Every time sweetened ice crunches between my teeth, I will think of the last time I visited my hometown. With the familiar drizzle of evaporated milk, the distance disappears and I return to the Philippines I remember. To the afternoons on my front porch with sliced mango, hands stained and the air sticky sweet. To the mornings preparing pineapples and papayas in a warm, hazy glow. To waking up in the middle of hot summer nights, shirt clinging to skin and throat aching for halo-halo.

 

Artwork by Katya Roxas

Tracing Identities by Tóia Azevedo

“No models were harmed in the making of this collage”, mixed media collage

Tóia Azevedo’s main artistic research is on the concept of identity. She uses her own body to make this search: in self portraits, mixed media collages, embroidery, performance. Additionally, she likes to look at the faces of the strangers she sees in magazines, and imagine what stories lie behind them. Who are these people? What can their features tell us about them? And about us? And about Azevedo herself?

In the following works, Azevedo has burned some faces to show what lies behind a perfect pair of model’s eyes: some could say that it’s an act of uprising against our society’s ruthless beauty standards, a kind of revenge against the perfection persisting in the spotlight. By burning, Azevedo takes away their identity or showcases things that we don’t usually see in them. She has used embroidery to draw facial features from people she doesn’t know under a thin layer of tracing paper: the result is some confused lines that we identify as human faces. It is a projection of the real humans under the paper as if they are immersed in dim waters.

Finally, Azevedo has covered herself in pink organza fabric in an attempt to hide her body as a sacred unseen goddess – but it isn’t enough. She is forced to trace the lines which both shape and imprison her at the same time. It’s all about lines, really. It’s all about finding maps, locations and therefore, identities in the body’s features. What all these works have in common is the necessity of finding unknown places, hidden identities, that one would not be able to see if there wasn’t any kind of burning or hiding or covering of the lines.

“No models were harmed in the making of this collage”, mixed media collage
“No models were harmed in the making of this collage”, mixed media collage

 

“Tracing Identities”, mixed media collage
“Tracing Identities”, mixed media collage

 

The High Priestess, self-portrait mixed with embroidery

 

Tóia Azevedo lives in São Paulo, Brazil, where she currently studies Visual Arts at São Paulo State University (UNESP). She works with portrayals of her own body in space, time and society. Tóia’s research involves goddesses and primordial feminine elements and how they manifest in our era. Some of her media includes photography, collage and embroidery, ceramics, performance, painting and poetry.

Space/Time by Ziba Rajabi

To Ooze
Acrylic on Canvas, Thread, Nail

As an Iranian female artist based in Arkansas, Rajabi’s work revolves around the desire to reconcile her relationship with two distinctive spaces: Tehran (her native land) and Arkansas (where she resides now). In her paintings and installations, she re-creates intimate moments torn from her home and neighborhood in Iran. Because she is far away from her homeland and not allowed to return without being trapped in  Iran, Rajabi can feel her memories of home fading away. She uses memories and images that have been rendered unrecognizable by the passage of time and turns them into shapes that allude to her homeland. Consequently, aspects of everyday life such as architecture, furniture, gardens, or a specific time of a day become the basis for her work. Her desire is to create a situation where the viewer looks at abstract paintings or installations and feels a familiarity, but can’t quite place what it is or why they sense a kinship. By creating this kind of scenario, she can show that regardless of nationality, religion, or gender there are commonalities for all individuals – that in a way, the masks of identities we wear may look different but are made of the same things.

Blue Petals from Green Arkansas 
Acrylic on Canvas, Mixed Media
First-Person Narrative
Acrylic on Canvas, Mixed Media
Bleeding to space 
Acrylic on Canvas, Thread
Untitled
Acrylic on Canvas, Mixed Media
About Being
Acrylic on Canvas, Thread

Ziba Rajabi (b.1988, Tehran, Iran) received her MFA from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and her BFA from Sooreh University, Tehran. She is the recipient of the student artist grant for the Artist 360 Grant, a program sponsored by Mid-America Arts Alliance. Her work has been included in a number of exhibitions, nationally and internationally, such as Masur Museum, LA; CICA Museum, South Korea; Aran Gallery, Iran; Art Fileds, SC; Pensacola Museum, Florida; Site:Brooklyn, NY; Amos Eno Gallery,NY; Millersville University, Indiana University, and Mim Gallery, Los Angeles. Find more of her work here.

there are ghosts fellating the machinery

By Jane Ayres

living the dream
(your best life)
smashing it
anything’s possible
inside the bubble
—————-because you’ve got this
(own it) and we’re having so much fun
—————-because the universe provides
and you & I are only limited by our limiting beliefs
(what are you waiting for?)
pass the sequinned bucket
put on the vajazzled facemask
the scariest part is not knowing
feeling the fear 24/7/12/365
don’t overthink the journey
—————-because I’m not sure yet but
—————-I’ll decide on the way

 

Artwork by David Hockney

Portrait of the Artist by Gabriela Kucuruza

Between painting and poetry, Gabriela Kucuruza is a young Brazilian artist who works with the expressions of bodies, existence, colors, feelings and femininity. Inside the world of paints, canvases and words, her artwork is how she finds a way to breathe. There is no clear distinction between who she is and what she creates, especially when her art is a continuous process of giving life and giving death. Her artwork is, finally, a way to unveil and to explore the identity that is embroidered on her body and on her mind.

Sculpting by Zahra Mohamadi

In Mohamadi’s work, the goal is to ask questions, not judge. The artist’s job is to design a theme or framework for discussion. Consequently, form has a special place in Mohamadi’s work. The main concepts she tends to explore are violence, rights, identity, the body, sexual orientation, and taboos.

Zahra Mohamadi is an Iranian multidisciplinary artist from Tehran. She has studied sculpture at the Art University of Tehran. Her main focus as an artist is on women’s issues, and she finds the medium of sculpture most conducive for doing so.

forget-me-not

By Jane Ayres

she’s losing her mind
they say
as if it’s like mislaying an odd sock
or a favourite dress
careless

but it isn’t lost
just working differently
dismembered patterns
fractured sequences
glittering constellations

I’m still here, you know

 

 

Artwork by Isha Joy, “Untitled” (@ishajoyart)