Wed, Aug 07, 2019 - Page 13 News List

God, gold and glory

A new art exhibition offers fresh perspectives on the nation’s brush with Spanish colonialism

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Barbara Sanchez Barroso, Far from Formosa (2019).

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Why did you come to Taiwan? (台灣!我來了), a new group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (MOCA, Taipei), is a modern-day examination of identity and migration through the legacy of Spanish colonizers who settled on the northern tip of Taiwan, which they called Formosa, for a brief period in the 17th century.

Though compact compared to the museum’s current main exhibition, Once Upon a Time: Unfinished Progressive Past (少年當代 — 未終結的過去進行式), which looks at youth culture from the 1950s to the 1980s, Why did you come to Taiwan? works as a companion piece with a few promising takes on the country’s colonial past and, more importantly, how it continues into the present.

The title comes from an exclamation made by Salvador Diaz, a historical figure captured by the Dutch to serve as translator during their conquest of Formosa. Taking his cue from Diaz, curator Cheng Shao-hung (程少鴻) invites three artists from Spain and the Philippines and two local artists to respond to colonialism.

Barbara Sanchez Barroso’s documentary short film, Far from Formosa, sees the Spanish artist on a tour of Taipei’s “Little Manila,” a stretch of Zhongshan North Road (中山北路) frequented by the Filipino community that is bound by Saint Christopher’s Church to the north and a one-stop department store to the south.

This is a living, breathing ethnic enclave, and Barroso’s guides, whom she also interviews, are two Filipinos who have transcended the economic pressures that initially brought them to Taiwan: Sherry Macmod Wang, a former domestic helper turned labor rights activist, and Mario Subeldia, the first migrant laborer to receive an artist’s license here.


What: Why did you come to Taiwan?

When: Until Sep. 29. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (台北當代藝術館), 39, Changan W Rd, Taipei City (台北市長安西路39號)

Admission: NT$50

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As descendants of the former colonizer and the colonized, the trio’s encounter produces some moments of insight and constructive discomfort. Walking through the toiletries aisle of a Filipino supermarket, Wang takes the opportunity to explain to a surprised Barroso her country’s obsession with whitening products and light skin as a mark of beauty.

But the work never really delves into the tension inherent in the trio’s relationship and the significance of their meeting in Taiwan, beyond brief mentions of the ignorance of most Spaniards today about Spanish Formosa and questions about the labor rights of migrant workers here. Barroso offers outward curiosity, but little inward inquiry.

For introspection and vulnerability, head to Lee Tzu-tung’s (李紫彤) art video, Writing the Time Lag (時差書寫), which the artist has been filming since 2014. Lee looks at transformations in gender and national identity through Taiwan’s Aboriginal and independence movements.

Backed by an all-female crew, Lee’s interviews become a safe space in which her respondents explore their roles as victims and aggressors. One Aboriginal activist recounts a sexual assault by an older male relative who, after the act was complete, told her, “See, you’re a natural.” Another activist for the Formosan Association for Public Affairs — a Han Chinese woman like Tzu — feels her complicity in past injustices and envies the relationship that Aboriginal communities have to the land and country of Taiwan, which is “without sin.”

Clocking in at a headspinning 70 minutes, with uneven sound levels and intermittent subtitles, Writing the Time Lag can be a difficult work to take in. But Lee does arguably the most honest and soul-searching work of the exhibition, and is an intriguing discovery.

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