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Maia Cruz Palileo (Filipinx American, b. 1979)

Maia Cruz Palileo: Days Later, Down River

Maia Cruz Palileo: Days Later, Down River navigates themes of migration and the persistence of tacit knowledge in the face of assimilation. The works on view map an archival, geological, and spiritual topography of the Palileo family’s homeland—the Philippines—and are inspired by their recent residency at the University of Michigan, which houses one of the largest collections of Filipino artifacts outside of the country. Building off their past research at the Newberry Library in Chicago and their personal family archive, Palileo explores the Bentley Historical Library’s photographic archive of Frank C. Gates, a professor of botany at the University of the Philippines (1912-1915) and objects from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology’s Philippines collection. By incorporating research from these various archives, their paintings recontextualize stories, portraits, and images to resuscitate and remove from the exploitative gaze of the ethnographic image.

While at the archive, Palileo discovered photo albums of Mount Makiling and Mount Banahaw, dormant volcanoes in the Laguna region of the Philippines. Each mountain is a birthplace of legend; Mount Makiling is the home of the protective spirit Makiling, whose legend was written about by national hero José Rizal, and Banahaw is a sacred mountain for spiritual pilgrimage. These albums served as a portal into the artist’s familial relation to this land, making connections to artifacts in their personal collection of family photographs, blessed amulets, and oral histories. As with volcanoes, they propose history as a site where perceived extinction and dormancy can be uncovered to reveal activity and potential. Memorializing the legacy of invisible histories, dense layers of foliage reveal mysterious figures shrouded by overgrowth and shadow. Parasitic liana vines further complicate the canvas. Native to tropical forests, these rapidly expanding woody vines are increasingly shady, choking rainforest trees, and competing for resources. Palileo renders the liana’s proliferation, interlacing the visible and invisible through layers of paint, echoing the selective means through which history is presented.

Translating these historic documents into a creative medium, Palileo cuts out archival images and reassembles them into panoramas where figures occupy mirrored and layered landscapes, offering new dimensions that intertwine ancestry, flora, and fauna. Transferring collaged black-and-white photographs into a vibrant palette, they pollinate a reimagined terrain in paint—an act of becoming where brush strokes render their homeland anew with self-possession and agency.

Program Sponsors

  • Carmina and Philipp Aldana
On Display
Wednesday, October 11, 2023 to Saturday, December 30, 2023
Image Caption
Maia Cruz Palileo (Filipinx American, b. 1979), After Wandering for Much Time, 2023, flashe and oil on canvas, 84 x 96 in., From the collection of Madhavan and Teresa Nayar. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery.
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