- Weaving Cultures: The Invention of Colonial Art and Culture in the Philippines, 1565–1850 by René B. Javellana
Weaving Cultures: The Invention of Colonial Art and Culture in the Philippines, 1565–1850
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017. 369 pages.
The dedication page of Weaving Cultures: The Invention of Colonial Art and Culture in the Philippines, 1565–1850 adumbrates its content, as the author cites the varied provenance and affiliation of family members and friends, "Filipinos all." They represent the flesh and blood of Philippine colonial history, engendering mestizaje (denoting miscegenation and cultural hybridity). René B. Javellana addresses the central question of Philippine cultural identity, tracing its development to a mesh of encounters that, with Spanish colonialism, thickened as well as expanded to the Americas and Europe, veritably constituting an early stage of globalization. Broadly, this monograph resonates with the core ideas of Nick Joaquin's "process of Philippine becoming." But Javellana's inquiry mainly partakes of the insights from pioneering works on Latin American culture and art about the inescapable fact of mestizo culture.
Those conversant with Javellana's work will agree with his remark that this monograph is "in a way a culmination of [his] many years of research in Philippine colonial art and culture" (xxi). It ties together the different strands of his scholarship: colonial art and architecture in the Philippines and Asia, cultural dissemination and heritage conservation, and art and communication theory. Undoubtedly cross-pollination has taken place among these areas of his oeuvre, given his long engagement with the arts as professor and former director of the Fine Arts Program at the Ateneo de Manila University, archivist of the Jesuit province in the Philippines, and chair of the Board of Trustees of Jesuit Communications.
The book explores the various aspects of cultural exchange and change resulting from the encounter that was colonialism. It begins with the network of exchange of information and knowledge established in the sixteenth century, in which the development of technology played a pivotal role. The next seven chapters discuss the colonial impact on the natural and built environments, on images and language, on clothing and performative traditions, and the native perception of these aspects of everyday life. By examining concrete objects, images, and practices as interrelated, mutually [End Page 126] shaping, and reinforcing parts of a whole, Javellana draws a vibrant picture of colonial life. The monograph concludes with an attempt to reconstruct the indigenous worldview based on the colonial world thus portrayed, from which questions arise to drive further research.
He applies a communications model from the field of information design, articulated by the likes of E. Tufte and N. Shedroff, to the encounter of cultures that resulted in the "invention" of colonial art and culture. Invention is to be understood as "creation and production" and in "the more archaic sense of finding as implied in its Latin root invenire, to find, to discover" (1). In the realm of communication, the emphasis lies in the two ends, sender and receiver, both of which can be interchangeably colonizer and colonized. Although the underlying idea of transculturation (and not just a one-directional acculturation) is not new in postcolonial studies, Weaving Cultures presents a rich tapestry of artefacts and practices that have undergone the process of colonial encounter. In the theory used, the extent to which communication—and therefore also miscommunication—occurs is articulated in the conversion of received data to information, and therefrom to the more orderly form of knowledge and even wisdom. Crucial to the initial part of the process is how data become meaningful to the receiver or consumer, which happens when the latter can relate to what is being transmitted; thus, a context of understanding should exist where the communicator "knows something about the world of the consumer in order to create a context of shared meanings" (9). The consumer then adapts, interprets and reframes, and modifies and integrates practices and objects introduced according to his or her own world of meaning. Oftentimes new meanings come about, which lie at the heart of cultural change. For example, the native belief in the inherent sacredness of nature was...