A combination of economic factors and Canadian immigration policies has made natives of the Philippines—and Philippine women, in particular—an underrepresented part of Vancouver’s multicultural mosaic. With the exception of Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore, women of Philippine descent have been largely invisible in local politics. And while some Filipinos—notably choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino—have made inroads in the wider arts scene here, their numbers remain few. That’s going to change, however—or at least it will if the organizers of the new Museum of Vancouver exhibition Shattering our (in)visibility have their way.
The multimedia show, which opens on Saturday (March 27) and runs until May 27, uses paintings, posters, fabric art, and costumes, many of them generated as part of fund- and consciousness-raising efforts for the Philippine Women Centre, to illuminate life in B.C.’s immigrant community.
“It’s really going to give a voice to people that might not have the opportunity to speak in public or be heard by other people,” says organizer and PWC volunteer Christina Panis, on the line from her office at the Centre A gallery. “It represents our community’s resistance and empowerment as well, so I think people will really draw on that. It gives them a way to express themselves that they’ve never had before.”
The Canadian-born Panis, whose parents are Filipinos, notes that her community faces the same challenges others, such as B.C.’s Chinese and Japanese populations, have already encountered and overcome. But she argues circumstances are especially difficult for many recent immigrants because of the federal government’s Live-In Caregiver Program. Through the LCP, nurses and others—a disproportionate number of them female and Philippine—have been recruited to work under conditions that Panis claims are little short of indentured servitude.
“The women are required to work 24 months of live-in care work, either childcare or elderly care,” Panis explains. “They’re forced to live in their employer’s home; they have an employer-specific work permit, and it’s a temporary permit. You can imagine living in your employer’s home: that’s not a situation anybody would ever want.”
As a Web designer and graphic artist, Reva Diana hasn’t had to endure such strictures. Yet the experience of women under the LCP inflects some of the work she’ll exhibit in Shattering our (in)visibility, most notably the diptych family divide, which depicts a Philippine nanny cradling a young blond girl while at home her husband cares for their own child.
The first-generation Filipino Canadian feels it’s important that her art reflect the immigrant experience, especially as she rediscovered her talent for painting through the Philippine Women Centre. Diana adds that she credits the PWC with helping her discover a sense of her cultural heritage—including the fact that in the precolonial Philippines, women were village chiefs and landowners rather than domestic servants.
“I felt a complete disconnect from my own culture, so trying to reclaim that has been important to me, and to my art,” she says.