Frontier Constitutions: Christianity and Colonial Empire in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines

Frontier Constitutions: Christianity and Colonial Empire in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines

Frontier Constitutions: Christianity and Colonial Empire in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines

Frontier Constitutions: Christianity and Colonial Empire in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines

Synopsis

Frontier Constitutions is a pathbreaking study of the cultural transformations arrived at by Spanish colonists, native-born creoles, mestizos (Chinese and Spanish), and indigenous colonial subjects in the Philippines during the crisis of colonial hegemony in the nineteenth century, and the social anomie that resulted from this crisis in law and politics. John D. Blanco argues that modernity in the colonial Philippines should not be understood as an imperfect version of a European model but as a unique set of expressions emerging out of contradictions--expressions that sanctioned new political communities formed around the precariousness of Spanish rule. Blanco shows how artists and writers struggled to synthesize these contradictions as they attempted to secure the colonial order or, conversely, to achieve Philippine independence.

Excerpt

A series of reflections on the colonial genre of painting in the Philippines, pioneered by native (Indio) artist José Honorato Lozano in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, introduces this book on the entanglements of Christendom, Western enlightenment, and native tradition during the emergence of the modern colonial state. Identified under the category of Letras y figuras (Letters and figures), each canvas is distinguished at first sight by the presentation of a phrase or name (usually the name of the patron who commissioned the work). On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that each letter is composed of figures and objects taken from colonial Manila and provincial life in the nineteenth century (see figure 1). The contours of these figures, which the artist partially reveals or effaces in the play of arranging their postures and activities or in the color of their clothes, determine the shape of the letter. As the viewer approaches the painting, the painting itself changes, dissolving into a heterogeneous assortment of native colonial subjects, called Indios by the Spaniards; native-Chinese or Chinese-Spanish mixed-bloods, or mestizos; peninsular Spanish officials; Spanish Creoles born in the archipelago; and European or U.S. merchants. All of them are involved in the daily activities of business, industry, or leisure. Indeed, if one examines each letter closely enough, the form of the letter may disappear entirely, leaving a partial and fragmented close-up of colonial society: a fisherman sitting behind a barrel by the wharf; an old woman clutching her shawl, silently walking by . . .

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