Skip to content

Hidalgo and Luna: Vexed Modernity


By Marian Pastor Roces


June 2002. Documenta 11 opens in Kassel, Germany. This edition, under the artistic direction of Okwui Enwezor, secures the legitimacy of the politics of multiple modernities. That Enwezor is the first non-European to curate Documenta is understood as the principal sign of shift. ‘His’ Documenta—for which he deputized eight co-curators with complex personal and professional links to Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia—is a consistently elegant argument for resistance to be construed globally. In fact, for resistance as fine art. One makes out that the elegance is political strategy: no appeals here to a Third World purity or righteousness that is constructed out of scruffiness. This show will have to be critiqued hard, of course, to rescue it from the auto-aggrandizing bent of the art system. But it is no hyperbole to reassert that Documenta 11 culminates at least a century of work to repudiate eurocentricity. And, reasserting so, is to also recall hundreds of places called “back home,” which are also times past, where (and when) the peripheral artist-who-would-be-modern played politics with no wherewithal whatsoever to determine the shape of the arena. In curious cases, thoughts of “back home” quickly return to Europe—or to a kind of Europe, that of the indio out to learn white tricks—where, despite proper matriculation, modernity remained a vexed thing. Documenta 11 is most poignant, and most chilling, and most effective, as a vast mnemonic device for conjuring the necessary but false starts for innumerable demands for equality. False starts, as well as surprise twists and appalling continuities: modernity’s at once liberating and imprisoning logics and effects mess up beginnings and endings; and the erstwhile native can have an unsteady grasp indeed of the relation of art, power, and emancipation.


The work of Felix Resurreci6n Hidalgo and Juan Luna may be richly considered from a position that is critical of nationalism, skeptical of the rhetoric of heroism, and aloof from the universal claims of art and modernity. (It is also an attitude of mistrust towards the hagiographic disposition of Philippine art history.) This seems impossible to do in the Philippines without being provocative—the least useful tack, unfortunately, for pressing for a re-think. Yet it is precisely because nationalism and heroism are dogma in the ideological infrastructure of the Philippine public sphere, that Hidalgo and Luna have not been fully yielded to analysis. And it is precisely analysis that becomes sclerotic when histories of ideas are obscured—indeed obscured in masterful ways by and with art, wherever art is regarded, as it is in the mainstream of Philippine letters throughout the 20th century, as quasi-divine act. Provocative or not, therefore, I urge analyses that bring an agnostic spirit to bear on the favorite focal point of nationalist-heroic discursos: the relation of art, power and emancipation, as modernity was, and is, transacted.

My own agnosticism does not require denigrating the heroes—nor to yet again recuperate and celebrate their genius—for the spurious program of retrospectively harnessing them to current debates. But I do have the overtly political agenda in stating the obvious: Filipinos have harnessed Hidalgo and Luna thus, in ways and for reasons that bear examination. Detractors as much as devotees—hitched together because they frame their arguments polemically—have in equal measure availed of Hidalgo and Luna (and national heroes Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, to create their own Hidalgos and Lunas. This multiplication makes it worthwhile to be inquisitive about the intellectual spaces inhabited by their myriad interpreters, not only those identified by the two 19th century artists in question. I believe it pays to be curious, not only about the opinions of the experts and recondite Filipino bon vivants, but also of magazine features journalists and press release hacks. It pays in coinage, in fact: a greater purchase on the circumstances when certain terms were coined and circulated.

This is not, so to speak, small change. The gains in interpretation, following an accurate grasp of, say, how variously the wordilustrado (or the word liberal) has been used by different peoples at different times and places—in itself constitutes a liberation from a too-simple pro or con discussion. The point is not to be “objective;” on the contrary, anything short of a committed thesis on the part of any commentator is probably criminal in a country like the Philippines, so locked in deadly double-speak. The nation for which Hidalgo and Luna provided epiphany is surviving miserably, if not self-destructing. The two artists and their interpreters figure in this disintegration, simply for having envisioned the nation. Or so it is possible to think, given an interest in sharp definition, as we shall see. With this interest and a bias for nuance, a bladed edginess is acquired by, questions such as: what in fact was the nature and impact of their epiphany? And in asking this question, one shifts from the habit of viewing the Philippines as untrue to her founders’ vision, to considering if there was something fatal in the vision.

Indignation and operaIn any case, sharp definition is available with regard to the dtstance between the two artists and their reproduced selves. Not much distance, at first pass. On the whole, Hidalgo and Luna interpreters share a passion for accurate biographical detail, which likely accounts for the impression one gets that little has changed in a century. The Luna who wrote in a letter from Paris to Rizal, in December 1890, expressing indignation,

“[Wenceslao Retana] says that I am not known in Spain and that he has seen all my paintings, except one, and according to those who know, I do not occupy any notable place among Spanish painters, but, on the contrary, I am a painter of the fifth or sixth class! Tell me now what inanities this man says about me and what his judgment is that I should get offended. All this is written to make our countrymen understand that we are…as always of an inferior race and we are always at the tail end.”

appears to be the same luna that art critic Emmanuel Torres wrttes about in The Manila Bulletin—the Luna of

“…the big historical and allegorical painting, with all its romantic visual rhetoric of theatrical lighting, vigorous movement, bravura brushstrokes, and heroic stances, who was glorified by nationals like Rizal and Lopez-Jaena. Through his Salon conquests, Luna became the living proof that the Filipino was capable of the highest achievement and the living refutation against certain racist contentions of Peninsular and Colonial Spaniards that the Indio was not worth much as a human being, intellectually inutil.” (bold type in the original)

There is notable consistency in even the timbre of language use in the paragraphs, including the register of righteous indignation. Torres has a more economical way with language than other critics and commentators, but Filipinos will instantly recognize the refrain. This is what Filipinos have been taught to say and think about Luna since the success of Spoliarium. There is no lack of similar examples, although the version of writer Nick Joaquin has the gravity of a Papal bull: “… [Luna’s] works are a direct refutation of everything that was being said against the Indio, and a proud demonstration of what the Filipino is—or should be.” 3 Joaquin also turns up that tone of indignation into operatic heights, in his introduction to the inevitable fu11-color tome:

“Was the Indio indolent? So Luna did one mighty canvas after another to prove that the Filipino was the very marvel of industry. Was the Indio said to be passive? So Luna filled his canvasses with action and more action to prove that the Filipino was dynamic. Was the Indio said to be inferior? So Luna did paintings that won prizes in Europe to prove that the Filipino could triumph over the white man on the white man’s ground. Was the Indio said to be uncultured? So Luna tackled the whole world of Western culture to prove that the Filipino was erudite and cosmopolitan. Was the Indio said to be unoriginal? So Luna experimented with a hundred styles to prove that the Filipino was inventive. Was the Indio said to be capable only of the small effort? So Luna went to work on canvases as large as eight meters to prove that the Filipino was capable of the colossal endeavor. And was the Indio said to be meek and shy? Well, there was Luna facing up to kings, and having his way with queen regents, to prove that the Filipino was listo enough and noble enough to sit with princes and dukes!”4

And, in journalese, the same sentiments become bathos:

“It was a time when the Spanish king didn’t seem to have eyes for the Philippines, which was crying for freedom from Spanish misrule. Luna and Hidalgo, who were among the politico intelligentsia seeking reforms, together with Rizal, Del Pilar, and Lopez Jaena, dipped their brushes into their motherland’s tears to create Spoliarium and Christianas as living catalysts for change.”5

A digression: opera itself may not have been incidental to this grandiloquent project of proving indio worth. That in the second half of the 19th century, Manila theaters hosted annual seasons of opera and zarzuela by French, Italian, British, and Spanish companies,6 and that the Manila bourgeoisie was entertained in this cosmopolitan fashion, often enough hearing the works of Verdi, Chueca, Gounod, Bellini, and Schubert (and furthermore processioned in Intramuros to remarkable choir music7), could very well have had something to do with a Filipino proclivity for the heightened declaration—connected or not with indigenous forms of oratory. There is certainly at least a metaphoric way in which an operatic sensibilité may be seen to form a clear line of descent from the Spoliarium—and the form of nationalism it helped inaugurate—to its most recent exegeses. One might add that Manila was after all the city where the 19th century arrived grandiloquently in the form of a painting of Fernando VII, in 1825 newly restored to his autocratic throne that was temporarily occupied by the Napoleonic court of France. The royal portrait was paraded on a garlanded float on a carriage, through Manila streets where the facades of the houses of the wealthy (including the grand Gorricho home of Luna’s mother-in-law) featured elaborate swags and drapes, and the people cheered—a painting.8

Hidalgo and the lineage of his interpreters have been much more circumspect, but have held the artist’s paintings in a no less elevated way. The Hidalgo refrain, for instance in the representative version of art historian Santiago Albano Pilar in the 1980’s, is also heroically formulated: “If Luna was the country’s first nationally committed, painter, Hidalgo was its first champion of a fine artistic sensibility singularly dedicated to the perfection of art.”9 Hidalgo himself spoke of his ambition in relation to fortitude:

“Tied up to my workload…! barely have time to rest during the day; in as much as [my day is] spent between the Academia and the Museum. Were it not for the hope of becoming an artist some day, I would not have the fortitude to go on pursuing here a life of all work with no sustenance and no amusement…”10

This language is familiar today. Hidalgo’s most thorough biographer, art historian and critic Alfredo Roces, offers this gist in the most recent book-length effort on this artist: “Viewing Hidalgo’s delicate paisajes, there is little more one can add in appreciation, except ‘amen,’ to the critiques by Rizal and other subsequent ones…”11 More importantly, there is a marked epic quality in descriptions that propose a structurally embedded Phllippine-ness in the content of Hidalgo’s (and also Luna’s) art. In Jose Rizal’s words: “…Hidalgo is all light, color, harmony, feeling, limpidity, like the Philippines in her moonlight nights on her tranquil days, with her horizons that invite to meditation, and where the infinite lulls.” In Rizal, a causal science even suffuses the poetic prose:

“…in Hidalgo’s painting the purest sentiment throbs, ideal expression of melancholy, beauty, and weakness, victims of brute force; and it is because Hidalgo was born under the brilliant azure of that sky, to the cooing of its breezes, in the midst of the serenity of its lakes, the poetry of its valleys, and the majestic harmony of its mountains and ranges.”13

These painterly qualities that supposedly issue from a physical experience of the Philippines is inevitably noted, for instance with the phrase Roces used, writing at the end of the 20th century, about the “soft mystical atmosphere;”14 which mid-century writer Ignacio Manlapaz also thought important to remark: ” [Hidalgo’s] pictures are usually spread o’er with the enchantment of fine dreamy haze.”15

That Filipino students of art and politics hardly find it striking—this consonance between the ideas held as articles of faith on either side of the centennial divide, and the sustained lofty tenor of the assertions—in truth raises disquieting questions. Not the least, why such stasis in interpretative work? (One respects the tenacity of cultural forms through time but must regard the persistence of particular analytic idioms, despite vast social changes, incredulously.) At least part of the answer is self-evident. The universe of interpretation is bound to the imperatives of Philippine nationalism. No one describes as stasis what is held as desirably durable: the biomorphically structured history of national emergence. That structure ordains that art, too, emerges plant-like from native loam towards the firmament of reason. This nation and its art are sealed off within a tautology, restrained to perpetual, mantra-like repeats of an evolutionary credo; which credo abides only a rhapsodic, heroic creativity.

Nevertheless, there are multiple dysfunctions between then and now. Recognizing the operations of similarity and reiteration within Philippine nationalism is merely a prelude to parsing out the differences; a requisite prelude nonetheless, because the similarity and reiteration, especially at the exalted levels deployed when it comes to Hidalgo and Luna, work to occlude the differences. Those buried differences are: firstly, shifts in the meaning and intent of key words, notably, ilustradoRealismRomanticismNeoclassicismliberaland nationalism, not only through time, but vis-à-vis different cultural and political spaces; and secondly, equally profound changes in the relationship between power and the variously construed public domain. An archeology in the Foucauldian sense is urgent, and should be taken up by the Philippine academe; this essay attempts to sketch out the sight lines for such an archeology. Pending that work, a good place to start excavating is the conceptual site where Hidalgo and Luna were first dramatically absorbed into political discourse.

ToastJóse Rizal is the ur-interpreter. He set the manner and thematics for the politicization of the work of Hidalgo and Luna in his brindis, the elegiac toast he gave during a big party at the Madrid’s Restaurante Inglés, immediately upon their oro/plata wins at the Universal Exposition in that city in 1884.16 (If only for the speaker, it is unsurprising that Rizal’s Hidalgo and Luna are cast in stone.) The speech is quoted in full [see Sourcebook] in this volume, for recall as a whole rather than in part. It has endlessly been quoted since that night, often as fragments, often to make two points: that Rizal ably articulated the ilustradopolitical passions of the late 19th century; and that it marked the moment Rizal himself became a centra1 figure in the reformist expatriate community from las islas filipinas. In the late 20th century, historians Gregorio F. Zaide and Sonia M. Zaide, among other producers of widely circulated texts, do not modulate the effusive description of earlier decades, in their case using a stream of superlatives in writing of the “magnificent speech…greeted with wild ovations,” from a “brown Filipino…almost peerless in nobility of thought, in Spanish rhetoric, in sincerity of feeling, and in sonorous eloquence.” [My italics]17 Still, Rizal was extravagant, however florid the Spanish of the day. As, indeed, were the gestural qualities of both winning paintings. The spirit of that extravagance informed the claim, the first of a very long series of repeats:

“The patriarchal era in the Philippines is waning. The deeds of her illustrious sons are no longer wasted away at home. The oriental chrysalis is leaving the cocoon.”


Rizal took the opportunity to soliloquize on the universality of human achievement. He clearly held faith in evolution and progress, and had an ecstatic response to the idea of genius. Graciano López Jaena shared these views in his own toast that same heady night— although, as Luna biographer Santiago Albano Pilar observes with a note of endorsement for the Visayan propagandista, López Jaena was more belligerent and emotionally raw than the Tagalog thinker.18 The following much-cited section is in fact more straightforward about the ideological faith in social Darwinism than Rizal was:


“All Europe views with ecstasy the first fruit of your evolution on the path of progress on the marvelous and delicate canvasses of your sons, Luna and Resurreccion, in spite of that theocracy, ever despotic and ignorant, living amid shadows and mysteries that for centuries has refused you [the Philippines] entrance to the concert of modern culture.”

The differences that cleaved through shared sentiments, separating Rizal and López Jaena, for example, are a vital cue: to take stock of the heterogeneity of the so-called propaganda movement. (To begin with, individuals change. López Jaena, the angry propagandist who in due course will become a conservative,20 added the overtly anti-friar to sentiments to the night for Hidalgo and Luna. The Rizal who skipped this point in his brindis would oppose theocracy for the rest of his life.) A close reading of historian John Schumacher’s detailed reconstruction of the reformist campaign yields an unusually textured view of those divergences, which ranged from petty personal conflict to disparity in method to insuperable ideological variance. Among Schumacher’s observations, one has particular relevance to this essay’s focus on picking up the import of differences. “A racial element,” he wrote in relation to the demise [in 1887] of the first-attempt propaganda instrument España en Fillpinas, “appears to have figured in all their dissidences, with the lines largely drawn between the creoles and Spanish mestizos on one side, and the Chinese mestizos and indios on the other”21 —even in instances when the cause of conflict or irritation was not at all race-related.

By the time La Solidaridad was being published in Barcelona, the reformists were mostly young Chinese mestizos and those who were or saw themselves as indios. The peninsularesinsulares, Spanish mestizos and creoles22 —as well as an older set of Spanish sympathizers—distanced themselves even from the reformists’ legally argued asimilista politics, preferring a paternalistic colonialism that paid attention to economic concerns. (Much less would there be interest in separatist ideas, on the whiter registers of the racial spectrum.)

The struggle for assimilation itself would not prosper; neither the end-in-itself version that asked for Spanish citizenship for the inhabitants of the Philippine Colony, nor the strategic version that regarded the call for equal rights as a step towards some form of autonomy. It must be remembered, then, that the variance between Rizat and López Jaena the night honoring Hidalgo and Luna presaged the far more pronounced splintering of the reformists along racial, class, personal and intellectual lines. It may even be argued that Luna’s presence that night-“foiled,” as it were, by Hidalgo’s absence—exhibits a significant distance between them, likely in their understand of their public, and their public roles.

For Hidalgo and Luna interpreters through the 20th century to each in turn extract and intone fragments from Rizal’s (and Lopez Jaena’s) speech is to freeze particles from a moment before differentiation—particles that are, hence, malleable around eternal verities. And those presumed verities—that the reformists en toto shaped the nation, that the shape issues from arrival at a civilized status, that that civilized status is demonstrable by such genius turns as winning prizes at the Expositions, passing through the “dolorous path of art”—promote the illusion of a nationalism that was uniformly understood, desired and fought for, notwithstanding racial and class differences. The extracts—for instance, the famous “genius knows no country”—seem to float above ideological divisions, above processes of intellectual maturation, and outside the politics of skin color. But this phrase does not float; when read as part of the original cluster of sentences

“Luna and Hidalgo are Spanish as well as Philippine glories. They were born in the Philippines but they could have been born in Spain, because genius knows no country, genius sprouts everywhere, genius is like light, air, the patrimony of everybody; cosmopolitan like space, like life, like God.”

it indicates no more than a young Rizal arguing, perhaps naively, for the full assimilation of the Philippines into Spain. Except for the invocation of a polyethnic Spanish nation (rather than Crown), the passage is not—or not yet—recognizably nationalist at all insofar as a putative Philippine nation is concerned. Not in the late 18th century German Romantic sense of return to mythic roots—although Rizal would later spend a lot of time researching and theorizing in this spirit. Not in the sense of early 19th century Spanish nationalism which was anti modernization. Nor in the manner of the mid-19th century Magyar popular nationalism—although this is the kind of vernacular movement that the activities of Rizal, and Luna, Hidalgo and the rest the reformists are said to have constituted, in the hindsight view of mainstream 20th century political discourse in the Philippines.

But: if it were indeed nationalism that suffused the night honoring the two winning artists, it was most likely a version that drew ideas from two disparate streams, both murky. I refer firstly to the transformation of a number of European autocracies into nation-states, as reaction to popular nationalisms in Slavic Europe (but also, as Benedict Anderson points out, 24 adding to Hugh Seton-Watson’s “biting” characterization, in England, France, Germany, Spain and the United States.) Historians Anderson and Seton-Watson describe these formations as the “official nationalisms” that preserved aristocratic or dynastic privilege within modernity. In this connection: while the reformists were certainly not representatives of Spanish authority, there was a sentiment abroad amongst them that wished to keep the specter of revolution, and the dispatch of social order as everyone knew it, at bay. There is, secondly, the older (in Anderson’s history, the pioneering) nationalism of creole America of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The reappearance of this nationalism in the outer fringe of the Hispanic world is not implausible of course: a nationalism figured racially, for white or mestizo benefit. As things will transpire for the Philippines, a nation along mestizaje articulations will in due course take shape. But the Hidalgo and Luna successes, early in the reformist campaign, were not-not yet-absorbed into creole nationalism.

Taking it from Rizal, the night was given over to an evanescent shadow of the 18th century French Enlightenment idea of an amour de la patrie that can, simultaneously, yield to a universalist l’amour de la liberte and l’amour de la paix. Emphasis on the universal, international, cosmopolitan: the freedom of all to fly, outside the confines of home if so desired, provided that that home is rebuilt to ensure that love and freedom of flight. This is the transcendent love of country of the Enlightenment’s Jean Jacques Rousseau, which sought realization in the shape of a nation that preferred happiness to greatness. Or, this is Rousseau translated, among others by Michelet at mid-19th century, into one of several Romantic idioms that required the construction of that category whose time had come: le peuple. The arrival of “the people” in French political discourse (the pueblo in Spain and the German volk, variously inflected) crystallized the argument for an all-inclusive polity. However, the more important point to be made is that Europe had already been disabused of such love of country, people and freedom—except in pure idealist terms—by the defeat of the democratic revolution in 1848-49.

By the late 19th century of the reformists from the Philippines, European nationalism was largely a reactionary form, shoring up elite privilege. Late 19th century liberalism, which will be discussed further on, would surrender the idea of achieving progress through free institutions, to the idea of achieving progress via mastery of science (and concomitantly, via the bourgeois wealth to gain that mastery). It may not be surprising that these reformists connected themselves to a less conceptually problematic, older Europe; a Europe that passed on, almost two hundred years before their time. ln any case, whether deliberately so or not, their modernity was a strangely old-fashioned one; vexed, it seems now, by the very density of the history they thrust themselves into. And vexed, as well, by their own diversity and instability as a group, which could perhaps only find a common-denominator set of ideas in the past. In an idealized Enlightenment, not in a treacherous contemporaneity.

Spoiled, spoils 

“If nationalness has about it an aura of fatality, it is nonetheless a fatality embedded in history.”25


In Benedict Anderson’s extended discussion on the form, a nation is that which is imagined, necessarily, as a given; fated, made inevitable by force of history. In Rizal’s brindis, the universal reach of the artist also has about it an aura of fatality embedded in history. Homeland determines the artist’s possibilities, according to Rizal’s art theory. El Spoliarium, said he, exhibits “such vigor and realism” that one experiences in the Philippines’ thunderous cataracts and earthquake-generated tremors. The home environment controls the artist’s hand: “The same nature that engenders such phenomena intervenes also in those strokes.”26 (Earlier, I have cited Rizal’s causal framing of Hidalgo’s work.) Rlzal furthermore posited a deep commonality, perhaps racially-determined in his view, that cuts through dissimilarity: “And both, despite being so distinct in themselves, in appearance at least, coincide at bottom, as all our hearts do in spite of notable differences.”27 Finally, Rizal let loose no less than an aria, sliding quickly from environmental and cultural determinism to some kind of intellectua1 fatality or fore-ordination:


“In reflecting on their palette the splendiferous rays of unfolding glory with which they surround their Native Land, both express the spirit of our social, moral, and political life; mankind subjected to harsh tests; unredeemed mankind; reason and aspiration in an open struggle with preoccupations, fanaticisms, injustices. ..”28


The artist seems predestined for the role of witness to the human condition in the home country. That sense of inevitability aligns surprisingly well with the 19th century realist attitude of curiosity about and commitment to quotidian experience. That inevitability squares, as well, with the shape of the positivist sciences of that period. Nonetheless, it is also in this determinist sense that art was thought, within the reformist group, to have an instrumental relationship with that capitalized Native Land—a fatal instrumentality that apparently overwrote intra-art concerns. Both Hidalgo and Luna expressed what may have been a substantially Realist attitude, convolutedly enough, in Neoclassical terms; not in the Realist approach to pictorial space. For if the Hidalgo and Luna interpreters are correct in supposing that Spoliariumand Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho are images of the artists’ abject countrymen, these are then allegories of a strange sort. Allegory in Neoclassicism gestured toward elevated or elevating, not abject, states. On the other hand, the Realism that perhaps compelled the choice of images for both these works, was an ideology that refused allegory all together.

I suggest that this convolution-the displacements and mixings-up of the European order of periods, ideas, imaginaries and pictorial techniques—was possible in part because neoclassicism after the French Revolution moved along a forked trajectory. The service of royalty by providing insignia of power was one tine of the fork; the other, the artist’s persona offered as model of individual emancipation to a public that came to view art expressly to seek models of virtue. (Significantly, this Public did not exist in the ancien regime.) Along this latter track, there were indeed some 19th century European artists who intended the constant, conventional quoting of Greek and Roman imagery as proposals for an ideal republicanism, hence as their critique of the disappointments and excesses of their times. Again along this latter track, a link (let’s say, figured around the word emancipation) between Neoclassicism and Realismcan be vivified, as Hidalgo and Luna arguably did; but, as longshots go, incongruously. The Neoclassical eternal verities do not mix well with Realism’s philosophy of the fleeting moment. Still, the idea of presenting human spoilage (Spoliarium) and spoils (Virgenes) to exposition juries and audiences did satisfy the erudition-quotient required by the retrograde academic Neoclassicism of Hidalgo’s and Luna’s time in Europe; and also the reformist stratagem of illustrating the sorrow of the colonized, at a suitably operatic level. But in sum, these conceptual twists, wired to competition savvy, did not make for artworks that stand up to rigorous measures of philosophical integrity.

The two works exist only in the affection of a national community that continues to be grateful for a brush with glory; in the narratives supporting the dubious ambitions of that nation’s leadership; as footnotes in the obscure archives of universal expositions that were spectacularly successful at kicking modernity into high gear, but were philosophically, ethically and aesthetically bankrupt at the end of the 19th century.29 Spoliarium and Virgenes cannot be retrieved from their own spoliarium at the nether end of the history of modern art, for reasons that should be enumerated. The expositions were imperial spectacles that will not be regarded uncritically by any ethical commentator. The Neoclassical pictorial convention aligns artists with the bloody history of monarchic and aristocratic ambition, because, unfortunately, the libertarian credentials of that same Neoclassicism were anemic. The possibility that a Realist stance (in Neoclassical drag) lurks in these paintings will elude most art scholars, except Filipinos and specialists in exotic modernities, because such a reading requires a detailed grasp of the reform movement and the species of nationalism that created the Philippines. And because, as art historian John Clark observes of works that deign to represent the national in Asia and elsewhere:

“Such works often manifest an unconsidered assertion of identity, or sympathy, or they eulogize lifestyles and values in a way that denies interrogation of the content or formal discourse of the representation. The national, if not exactly holy, is regarded as value-enhancing or value-bearing in its own right, and it becomes the expressive task of the artist to represent these values through subject matters and stylistics that do not call those values into question.”30

The hope held by Filipino critics and culturatti for the recuperation in the future of an un-ironic Neoclassical, “style,” infused by a “romantic spirit,” will not come to pass. It is now well past the time when any serious intellectual will regard aesthetic style, trend, manner, visual vocabulary or even affectation, as anything but imbricated in the structuring principles of vast philosophical orders with their concomitant political economies. The obscurity to which the French and Spanish Salon fell was not merely the effect of a shift in fickle tastes. Consignment to that obscurity reflects the final and irrevocable rejection of dynastic rule by Western modernity of the 20th century. Unfortunately, that rejection did not include the “official nationalisms” that have continued to vest power in erudite and monied elites throughout the 20th century; and which cunning nationalisms, during their early consolidation in the late 19th century, purloined Enlightenment ideas to cobble together into workable libertarian credentials. More importantly with reference to the Philippines, that rejection did not include the residual variant of creole nationalism operating within the culture of the ilustrados (roughly a century after creoles created the American nations). Indeed, among the vexations this nationalism visited upon the Phillppines, was rendering the Neoclassically-inclined, aristocratic ilustrado system of meanings invisible and beyond criticism.

But such is the mythic power of the notion of nation. To return to Anderson’s gist: a nation is its own raison d’etre. A nation is a nation because it seen as fated to be so, by logic of history. A history, ironically, that draws its mythic seamlessness from the opacity of its construction of itself. Within this circular logic, no one is inclined to draw distinctions between one nationalism and another; nor to even imagine nationalisms in the plural. All of which is even more paradoxical in the Philippine case, in that this opacity is secured by the metaphor of light.

LucesThrough most of the latter 20th century, Filipinos have used the word ilustrado as though it were coined by the expatriate community of middle class young men, mostly mestizos from las islas filipinas, who sought education and entertainment in several cities of the late 19th century Europe; and who self-designated as ilustrado to signify their faith in the value of an educated elite to a society. The word, however, preceded its deployment by the men from the Philippines. It is useful to unearth the detail that Francisco Goya, for instance, was among the so-called ilustrados of late 18th -early 19th century Spain. Already in circulation then, the word carried its clear reference to l’âge de lumiére, which was expressed in the Francophile (afrancescado) and elitist bent of these Spanish followers of the French Enlightenment. Like the young Goya (specifically, the Goya who made a marginal note in the series Los Caprichos,31 that “The author’s…intention is to banish harmful beliefs commonly held, and with this work of caprichos to perpetuate the solid testimony of truth…”), the Spanish ilustrados were acolytes of Reason. They suffered neither the the excesses of monarchy nor the medievalisms of the pueblo, and managed to push reform under the dispensation of Carlos III.

However, post the Caroline regime and the French Revolution, and during the subsequent war between Spain and France, the Spanish ilustrados—luces—would find themselves close to extinguished by the strange alliance of traditional conservatives with the pueblo. In a fit of anti-modernist nationalism, the Spanish royalty and aristocracy, joined by the plebeian nobles—the majos and majas—indulged in a paroxysm of folksiness. The toreros, the bandidos and other picaro (rogue) types of legends, and theater’s duende and other grotesques, would populate the imagination; that is, the imagining of a national Spanishness.32 Taking stock of this turn of events, one observes that the early 19th century Spanish ilustrados were by force of circumstances as anti-nationalist as they were anti-theocracy and anti-monarchic, none of which were stable political positions. Politics for most of these ilustrados was negotiated in gradients, rather than immovable polar points of commitment; many were torn individuals. In his later years, antagonistic forces drove Goya to emotional extremes: on one hand, the pull of the pueblo, with its menagerie of monstrous beings and its utility to a “refulgent” Spanish nationalism (costumbrista);33 and on the other, to the pull of the emancipatory principles of the Enlightenment. Not so, for the heirs of the ilustrado name who came from the Philippines to live in Spain and France about a century later. In comparison, then: the Philippine ilustrados (some of them were “Filipino,” the equivalent of the American creole) abided by a constellation of ideas and political positions different from that of their predecessors. The former held the Enlightenment in contradistinction to a pseudo-folk nationalism, while the latter wouJd produce a conflation of nationalism with Enlightenment ideals. But which nationalism? To the extent that peninsulares, insulares, Spanish and Chinese mestizos—and comparatively few self-designated indios—all participated in the brief, early days of the reform movement prior to the collapse of España en Filipinas, it is possible to borrow the term creole nationalism for (limited) use in the Philippine context. As to what that nationalism meant, one might take recourse in Schumacher again, who draws attention to the book entitled El progreso de Filipinas by the Chinese mestizo, Gregorio Sancianco, an early advocate of reform in the Philippine Colony, saying that:

” […it] anticipates most of the principal themes of the later Filipino nationalist campaign: administrative reform, eradication of corruption in the government, recognition of Filipino rights as loyal Spaniards, extension of Spanish law to the Philippines, curtailment of the excessive power of the friars in the life of the country, and assertion of the dignity of the Filipino.”34 [My italics]



Operating allegorically, this nationalism deployed a poetics of kinship: Mother Spain and Daughter Philippines. In containing the child’s independence within the embrace of filial piety—Juan Luna’s “España y Filipinas” shows how this containment can be conceived prettily—such a nationalism linked itself surreptitiously to racial politics. Ambiguously too: the creole, and by extension the Spanish mestizo, is racially a de facto child who, unable to ask for “birthright,” instead demanded rights by virtue of the genealogical descent of one paísto another. Still, the creole, the Spanish mestizo, and by further extension, the mestizos of all sorts who qualified as honorary creoles by virtue of newfound wealth—only demanded those rights for all inhabitants of their country of birth at the extremely abstract level of an idealized Enlightenment. The realpolitik of the matter was that those rights were only demanded in behalf of those who are racially linked to the motherland. Although Anderson points out that American creoles at the cusp of their national imagining imagined themselves to be mythically related to an American indigeneity, it remains that their invocation of the Enlightenment liberté and egalitédisguised an underlying genetics discourse.

This is all in hindsight. It may very well have been the case that the Philippine ilustrados were generally unconscious of the dissimulating qualities of a reform agenda seeking to make Spaniards out of Philippine inhabitants. Certainly, as late as the mid-20th century, Dr. Jose Bantug, the compiler of the Epistolario Juan Luna around the period of the centenary of the artist’s birth in the mid-20th century, did not find it necessary to qualify his remark: “…para Luna, ‘español’ y ‘filipino’ equivalían a ser una sola cosa, y usaban la palabra ‘nosotros’ y ‘lo nuestro,’ el uno cuando se refería a cosas de Filipinas y el otro asuntos de España.35 Still, the basic features of 18th century creole nationalism were known to them, however historically and geographically distant it was at the end of the 19th century. (And it was not called creole nationalism in either century.) The reformists in the early stages of their movement worked closely with at least one Cuban republican politician, Rafael M. Labra, who graced the banquet in honor of Hidalgo and Luna, and whose “voluminous writings probably influenced Filipino thinking…36 Indeed one defining moment for the pre-Solidaridad reformists was their decision not to continue working with Labra, whose agenda was explicitly for autonomy.

The later reform movement was less “creole” racially, composed as it was by Chinese mestizos and indios (the peninsulares, insulares, Spanish mestizos and their Spanish sympathizers largely having dropped off). Browner, it was this latter-day group that would veer very close to, but would stop short of, calls for independence. They went full tilt skirmishing with church authority; contemplating race theory in order to militate against prejudice; and fulminating against the excesses and ineptitudes of the crown. It might be argued, therefore, that they espoused another kind of nationalism, akin to the reactionary “official nationalisms” that were proliferating in Europe of that fin de siécle. This variant sought radical modulations to the infrastructure of imperialism, for the conservative purpose of staving off the very real possibilities of popular revolution. It was class prerogative, then, that inflected this ilustrado nationalist vision, and occulted racial considerations. The desired national community would be Enlightened, ilustrado by force of its authors’ cultivation, which unhappily also meant a paternalistic or rejecting attitude towards the majority of the inhabitants who were thought to be beautiful and innocent, but shrouded in ignorance and incapable of staging a revolution based on reason.

I went into all this nitpicking to be able to suggest that the word ilustrado used by the Philippine reformists at the end of the 19th century had a complex—and far from synonymous—relationship with the same word as it circulated in late 18th to early 19th century Spain. To the ilustrado generation of Goya, emancipation was an Enlightenment project that demanded a rejection of theocracy, and of dynastic and aristocratic privilege; the categorization and acceptance of that new political player, The People; but also, an attitude of distancing from the rabid potential of that mass. To the ilustrados of the first stage of the reform movement, emancipation was a quasi-Enlightenment project that only demanded that attitude of distance from pueblo culture; a careful and wily critique of church and crown bureaucracies; and recognition of the rights of the racially-drawn category, hijos del país—that is, creoles, insulares, and Spanish mestizos. To the ilustrados who were active at the final stage of the reform movement, emancipation was a hypothetical Enlightenment project that demanded a wholly antagonistic stance vis-á-vis the church and crown bureaucracies, mitigated by careful negotiations with the imperial elite for “reform.” Significantly, the class status quo was never under attack, as it would have been had the protagonists been the ilustrados of the early 19th century. Finally, there was no question about the disdain for vernacular culture that was latent in the studious reactions to the specter of popular revolution, and in the insistent call for the education of peasants and tribal people. Latent, as well, in their calls for recognition on the basis of bourgeois cultivation; signal of arrival In the world of the civilized, and apotheosized by the genius act.

GeniusJuan Luna, writing privately:

“Con respeto a las criticas, yo le dire y le he dicho que son mis pensamientos, mejor aun, mis impresiones. ¿Como quieres tu ahora que tome en cuenta si me desafian en tu peri6odico? Mis impresiones han sido para ti, pues yo no pretende convertir con la pluma ni con la palabra, medios estos de que no me ha dotado la madre Naturaleza, y que, segun tu, sirven para publicar los secretos del alma; le confieso, pues, que no podre inculcar los secretos del arte moderno, que es el mismo antiguo, porque se cimenta en la verdad, que es el escalon indispensable para lo sobrenaturales decir, sobrenaturalcuando el artifice o confeccionador es un genio…Mucho me alegrare verte por aqui a ver la Exposicion Universal, en donde abunda lo feo util, lo util para que los pueblos se engrandeszcan cultivando la inteligencia, esta es la gran Galeria de Maquinas; para mi, pues, estan en decadencia aquellos pueblos que no han sabido sustituir la fuerza bruta por la fuerza de la inteligencia que han creado estas maquinas para el bienestar de los pueblos, pueblos en donde mas se cultiva la inteligencia y en donde se rinde mas culto a la poesia, a la musica, a la pintura…”37


Contemplating modernization, Luna articulates his own matrix of relations between and among truth, the divine, art, technology and the human condition. Genius is central to his scheme of things. Antiquity and modernity are similarly ordered by truth, the “indispensable stepping-stone” to the supernatural—provided that the maker is a genius. Technological advances enable aesthetic cultivation. Social welfare is that capacity for cultivation, hence technology has an instrumental relation to emancipation, This cluster of ideas allowed for the melding of the divine within the religion of progress, whose principal illusion during this period was the promise of social equity through industrialization. It sounds like the statement of Victor Hugo—”Progress is the footstep of God himself. “—but not upon close reading. For in 19th century Paris, Hugo’s statement would have been understood, particularly by those awed by the universal expositions, aseverything, including art, in the service of Progress deified. Luna’s formulation went in another direction:everything, including progress, in the service of social welfare and aesthetic refinement, towards divine truth. In this sense, the outstanding virtuosity that makes for genius is cast in spiritual terms.

The contrast shows a Luna compelled by what I characterize in this essay as a vexed modernity: the embrace of ideas circulating in 19th century Europe, but reconfigured in his soul to align with deeper allegiances. From the evidence of this letter, the radical secularism of modernity was not among his deeper allegiances. Luna’s dichotomy between “brute force” and “the power of the intellect” is a neoclassicism of the kind that would have been part of Academy curriculum; it also resonates with the Medieval dyad between body and soul, that would have been an assumption in frayle teaching back home. As for the matter of genius and its access to godhead, one thinks instantly of, again, the medievalism deus artifex; or the early Renaissance neoplatonism, alter deus (in the sense that Leonardo da Vinci called the artist signore e Dio.) It seems fairly clear that in Luna’s usage, genius was classically defined; and informed, ahistorically enough, by the Romantic framing of genius vis-á-vis the creative imagination and the ability to feel intensely. In at least this one letter, that Luna spoke of genius at a distance from the late 19th century notion that normatively twinned genius and madness or mental illness. (It is sadly ironic, then, that the still-outraged 20th century descendants of Luna’s in-laws make a point of the violent—”not normal”—behavior of the artist and his brother Antonio, keeping distant from all talk of genius.) Luna’s modernity, genius-driven, pulled away from modernity. Which should alert Luna scholars to the possibility that the man remained a tourist in late 19th century Western Europe; that he did not—perhaps could not—inhabit the notion of contemporaneity.

The Realist double disavowal—of the Enlightenment’s abstract, universal truths, and of the Romantic recovery of the soul from the alienation produced by that Enlightenment—would drive European artists and writers from the mid-19th century to seek, confront and express truths in the form of concrete minutiae. Hence the proliferation in (particularly French) painting and literature of quotidian images of city life, industrial production, railroad and racetrack activities, wasted humanity and bourgeois pleasures like picnics: the stuff of common-ness become the stuff of a revolutionary politics. It was this politico-aesthetic space opened up by Realism (“…the day is coming when a single original carrot will be pregnant with revolution…”39) that would in due course allow imperialism itself to be contested. Luna’s emancipatory project could only have been possible to think, within a specific history that already benefited from the Realist twist on both the Enlightenment and Romantic projects. The twist: that the heroic (and this includes genius) could only be viewed as suffusing the mundane flow of modern experience; otherwise the heroic (and with it, genius) could no longer be a vital idea. Luna, who painted with bravura brushstrokes that called attention to virtuosity—indeed a heroic virtuosity—and who used in his big efforts the very Greco-Roman grand quotation that Realism rejected, could not have drawn political force from that Realism.

Hidalgo occupied the same vexed, and vexing position. It was not only that his Virgenes allowed him entree into an art world directly in the service of an aristocracy whose time was past. It was that such servile art represented a domain of (Salon) art-making that accepted an aesthetically and politically diminished role for artists in a Europe riveted by other artists whose ambition was no less than the re-arrangement of ways of thinking. No matter what Hidalgo’s true nationalist passion may have been, that diminished domain of art-making squared properly only with reactionary, “official” nationalism. (And I quickly add that I am by no means: saying that Impressionism and subsequent isms had unvexed links with a purer nationalist stream. No such thing as purer.) Hidalgo’s Dante in La Barca de Aqueronte and La Laguna Estigia exhibited a universal Hell, not the hell of, say, a 19th century foundry. It would be a dreadful mistake to aver, yet again, that this was simply a stylistic choice. For this was a choice that exhibited the artist absorbed by or within a Medieval (via Romantic) imagination. The Christian God was there as fundamental force in his universe, mystically embodied and transported administratively from antiquity to modernity in the regnum, the kingdom. Here again, therefore, is a modernity that preserved a counter-secular dynamic. And with this God living robustly at the heart of the particular version of colonialism operating inlas islas filipinas, it may not be all too wild an assertion to say that this art was cultural capital invested in the imperial status quo-despite the overt signs of the erosion of that status quo, and despite even the artist’s own desire for social transformation.

Hidalgo in fact appeared to have kept himself distant—serenely and unselfconsciously—from the intellectual and political demands of much art-making of his time:

“…Occupied here with my brushes and my imagination in the world of dreams, time passes me by without my being aware of it…I have spent the months of July and August outdoors by the seashore of Clareute Tuferieure where I have taken in good air and vigor and [with these] notes and studies in nature for my paintings, by means of photographs as much as through painted sketches.”40

If Hidalgo’s interpreters are on the mark in asserting and celebrating the artist’s complete devotion to art (presumably in contradistinction to art-and-politics, but also regarded as a form of nationalist devotion)—then they demand a hard look at the oeuvre itself. The distance from contemporaneity expressed serenely in the first sentence of the section of the letter to Pedro Paterno quoted above, connects clearly with the information given in the next sentence. “…notes and studies in nature for my paintings” is a technical approach perhaps stubbornly preserved contra the plein-air enthusiasms of his contemporaries. One must remember that pleinairismework was less a style, or affectation, or moda, or methodological device, than it was an expression of the will to un-learn an order of things thought too eroded or corrupt to countenance. “And even if we beg the question,” wrote art historian Linda Nochlin, “by saying that a style—any style—is by definition no more than a series of conventions, we must still admit that the Realists made a very stringent effort to fight clear of existing ones and to battle their way through to new, less shopworn, and more radically empirical formulations of their experience.”41 From this perspective, the distant-ness, abstraction, and dreaminess in Hidalgo’s landscapes and outdoor portraits confirm—politically, this time—a disinclination to conduct matters into crisis. That he was not drawn towards location-specific and time-bound grit is well-noted in the 1iterature on him. But it is important to furthermore point out that his idealizing bent was not an ethically neutral stance; was a vote in favor of art that is subservient to rather than critical of power; and was a proclivity that would not bring forward an emancipatory momentum.

Mention of photography is another cue worth following here. Clearly a tool that Hidalgo used for figuring light,42 nonetheless photography did not shift his decidedly painterly pictorial planes and vantage points; nor his penchant for floating people in a kind of timeless, sometimes space-less abyss; nor his disinterest in harsh picturings of urbanization. Hidalgo was not the artist who would grapple with the complications imposed by a technology of representation on the production of meaning in art. Because he did not regard art-making tools as loaded with the potential for shaping truth systems (and newfangled tools as particularly threatening to old shapes), Hidalgo practiced art as cultivation of heritage, not as a program of disassembling and reassembling reality. The heritage artist, whose genius exhibited descent from God, was a figure limned by their milieux with heavy intellectual and political investments in genealogy—which in turn facilitated the conflation of the auras of artistic and social pedigree, The artist of rupture, on the other hand, who eschewed genius and lineage, compelled interest in the fortuitous and unexpected; enthusiasms for illegitimate offshoots of history; and acknowledgement of the trauma of modernization. That an artist from the colonies could have a practice of any sort in Europe, particularly Paris, was a happy after-effect of rupture. For such an artist to then retreat into the secure precincts of heritage, pedigree and genealogy seems, to me, to be a kind of original sin.I mean original as in sui generis; originals of the dramatically divided modern indio self. Luna’s and Hidalgo’s shared desire for stature within the 19th century imperium would mean discordant self-creation. The unresolved internal contradictions linked them more profoundly to each other than they can ever be differentiated. (To his sister, Hidalgo wrote, on a melancholy timbre, of existence, “…that God has given us and which most of the time we make sad and miserable because we do not know how to make use of it; and because we do not know how to conserve life as God wills. Let us shape it as it is: let us acquire sufficient philosophy to suffer its contradictions and be strong enough in spirit and determination so as not to allow ourselves to be dismayed.”43) Both were men committed to a reformist agenda who were nonetheless deeply enchanted by the changeless or unchanging. Critics of white supremacy, they nonetheless accepted the superiority of white history and culture. I made mention of Luna’s tourist eye, which gazed upon and memorialized chula upon chula, not with the politically-charged empiricism of the Realist, but with an interest in “types. ” Hidalgo did not veer too far from the same tipos del pais view in his life-long passion for visual cataloguing: The Amanuensis, HilanderaLa GitanaLos Mendigos, Dutch GirJ, the early El Violinista, Filipino Beauty of Yesterday, Una india del campo, Parisiense, La vendedora de lanzones, and so forth, shared the punto de vista of travel literature. However consummately modeled in Hidalgo’s hands (compared to the works of precursors rike Damian Domingo and Felix Martinez} and though seemingly informed by a greater erudition, it remains that these were images figured by the eye of the privileged wanderer/observer, the consumer of sights who assumed superiority over the seen. The white man’s eye on the body of the indio.

Even more troubling in hindsight: this indio artist would have to be strongly persuaded to take on the concrete conditions of the laborer, and was only persuaded twice, if E. Arsenio Manuel’s source was correct in the paragraph below. If so, then the motley people otherwise recorded in Luna’s canvases belonged to an aesthetic universe that was untouched by Realism’s central concerns. Which also suggests that Luna (and, more clearly, Hidalgo) did not craft tight connections between his approach to art and his ideas of what art is, on one hand, and on the other, the strong pull on him of socialist politics.

“About the end of October [1893] Un sacrificio Romano was exhibited In the Equidazu Mansion at the Carrera de San Geronimo [Bilbao]. At the repeated requests of Messrs. Martinez de la Rivas and Senator Victor Chavarri he painted two canvasses which depict the working class. La Coladaand El Interior de las Talleres de Acero Robert were inspired by factory scenes; so also Talleres de Laminacion (Clotet, post). These, together with several portraits and Una Boda en Pompeya, were shown in an open exhibition in the Matheu Gallery of Bilbao, January 1894.” 44 [My emphasis]



Contradiction was so extreme that it was unlikely to have been comprehensible. The King of Spain’s commission to Luna to paint theBatalla de Lepanto, to be paired with La Rendicion de Granada (commissioned to Spanish artist Pradilla) at the Spanish Senado may indeed have been unprecedented for a colonized subject. Yet the 15th century Castillian victory at the battle of Lepanto and the capitulation of the Moor Boabdil in Granada, marked, not just the foundational moment for the Spanish kingdom, not just the reversal of 758 years of Moro domination of the Iberian peninsula and the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews that launched their global diaspora—but most importantly for the student of irony, the inauguration of European imperialism. For a colonized man to ascend to the honor of painting an emblematic picture of precisely the mythology of power that imprisons him, is—if I may be permitted a raw response to this detail of history-heartbreaking. However, it is no less a sorry an event than the commission to the multi-awarded and dignified Hidalgo, by the United States Colonial Government, to produce a painting “depicting peace and liberty under American dispensation…”45 resulting in the unfortunate Per Pacem et Libertatem, exhibited at the Universal Exposition of St. Louis in 1904. As it happened, this was also the exposition that would bring global attention to the ilustrado-invented divide separating the educated “Filipino” from the dog-eating, be-feathered, loinclothed “natives” of the Philippines. This was the painting, matched in cloying imagery by Luna’s España y Filipinas, that would seamlessly link art’s ministerial relationship with the Old and New World colonizers of the Philippines.

Yet these contradictions pale in the light spilling through the fatal crack cleaving the two artists’ integrity. I am referring to the liberties that were taken in the use of the word ilustrado by the self-named ilustrados from the Philippines. For the Enlightenment was certainly dimmed by this group of men whose longing for redemption by Reason was undermined by a loyalty to the logic of an aristocracy. Whose fight for equality on the global stage required the further crystallization of class divisions in the home country. And whose critique of racism would not extend to an auto-critique of their own contemptuous attitudes towards the primitive. In art, Hidalgo and Luna could only have been nominally ilustrado, because the Academic conventions they were devoted to, kept art hitched, perversely, to the antique worlds run by kings and queens that the early 19th century Spanish ilustrados decried. The persistence of a tipos del pais way of seeing in that part of their work that “freed” itself from the heavy-handed Academic manner, confined their nationalism to the Spanish costumbrismo, which was an anti-rational, folk-ish politics. And their efforts in the Academic tradition absorbed them into French official nationalism that appealed to the Enlightenment only to safeguard elite and bourgeoisie interests from the revolutionary dynamic of vernacular nationalism.

ClassToday, the word ilustrado is thought to refer to a “class.” That is to say, Philippine mainstream nationalist writing retroactively gave the elite and the entire emergent middle class of the late 19th century Philippines the prestigious label, ilustrado; the label that a handful of expatriates from las islas filipinas borrowed from early 19th century European advocates of Enlightenment ideas—and which ideas they proceeded to, in fact, garble. FIlipino schoolchildren are taught that it was this illustrious class that imagined the Philippines as nation. In his book on Hidalgo, Roces evoked the beginnings of an august genealogy (and a poetics on genetics) to repeat the claim that: “A national consciousness was the mestizo contribution. They were the first to articulate the nation’s aspirations and problems. The mestizos voiced the plight of the indio.”46

Roces wrote:

“The idea of being Filipino came from the ilustrado. It was the ilustrado who articulated the concept of nationhood and fanned the embers of patriotism. It was the lIustrado who imagined the Filipino Nation and the Filipino identity; who designed the flag, and composed and wrote a national anthem. They gave us our national dress; they gave us the kundiman. They brought the Filipino people into a higher threshold, seeking their rightful place in the world. Now matter how specialized their professions, they were well-rounded in their education and interests, writing poetry, composing music, painting, dancing. They are the dramatic personae who shaped nineteenth century Philippines.” 47

Where social hierarchy was never as rigid as, say, the caste system of the Indian subcontinent, the word ilustrado has come to serve as shorthand for elite, pedigree, and privilege and nationalism. This ilustrado-ness, then, has precious little to do with the anti-elite, anti-church, anti-pedigree, and anti-privilege passions—and indeed nothing to do with the strong sentiments against refulgent nationalism—that formed the ideology of the ilustrados of early 19th century Europe. The supposedly liberal politics of the Filipino 19th and 20th century ilustrado “class” glosses over the complexities of European history, such as:

“Liberals always spoke of democracy as a disreputable force, springing from all the worst passions of mankind. In French middle-class homes in the early nineteenth century the words democracy and republic were not considered suitable for use before the children. Democrats, on the other hand, presented liberalism as a selfish creed, shrouded in a lot of talk about freedom for everybody, but in actual fact designed to put power and privilege into the hands of the middle classes. This was a powerful argument because it could be supported by fact.”48

With the pertinent history glossed over, it is no wonder that radical chic can be articutated to ludicrous lengths in Philippine letters—without discussion, let alone debate. Then again, the perverse ilustrado-ness abroad in the Philippines, that not only signifies but consolidates elite and bourgeois power (not the teast, the power to erase all memory of the

“We misread history if we decry flaunting as mere ostentation. Actually, those tokens of wealth, prestige and progress were flaunted to defy an enemy common to Indio, mestizo and Creole: the Peninsular Spaniard; and painting, too, had a common goal: political liberation. Whether Indio, mestizo or Creole, the Filipino had smarted for ages in his underpriveleged status, but now fumed dangerously to see the Peninsular enjoying prior and ampler opportunity for higher office—and for no other reason than they were not born in the Philippines! These interlopers who would look down on the native-born Filipino had to be upstaged—and ‘the latest fashion in raiment or jewelry’ was actually the red flag of revolution brandished by a social class enabled by new wealth to snub the snob!”49

Which argument occludes such developments in European history—”Social reform on the Continent became almost exclusively the property of the democrats, and socialism and democracy allied against liberalism increasingly as the century proceded. Consequently liberalism was regarded by many people as a conservative creed, even as an outworn creed…”—that were immediately replicated in the Philippines:

“As soon as free institutions had been established, and sometimes when they had merely been promised, the liberals began forming National Guards and taking other security measures, lest the populace should begin to make demands which had not been included in the original programme.”50

Consider just one fragment of one document, this one written by Apolinario Mabini,

“We have just been witnesses of unjust spoliation of lands in the south of Luzon, and our short term in the Government of Malolos and the travels we were forced to make through the north not only corroborated our sad experience, but likewise made us understand the evil is very great, and quite general. When we were in the Government of Malolos, someilustrados told us with great fear that the cry of liberty had made socialist or communist ideas spring up in the minds of the masses, who were dissatisfied with certain properties of doubtful origin. These ilustrados failed to understand that the discontented belong precisely to the category of the poor who have been despoiled of their land…”51

and in this connection, consider the delight and necessity, on the part of anyone assuming power in the Philippines, of fashioning links, however tenuous (or spurious), with illustrious pedigree:

“Last September 11, President Ferdinand Marcos and the First Lady and Metro Manila Governor Imelda Marcos cut the ceremonial ribbon to inaugurate the restored house. The First Couple have reasons to be sentimental about the historical landmark. She is the great-granddaugher of Aniciana Luna y Trinidad, daughter of Dr. Jose Luna, younger brother of the hero. The President, while a Congressman, introduced in 1957 a bill creating the Juan Luna Centennial Commission (JLNCC). This agency, with the President as member, aimed to rebuilt (sic) the Luna birthplace…the First Lady acted to realize the long-time dream. With the help of the Department of Public Highways and the National Historical Institute…the Luna House was reconstructed in less than 2 months.”52

Thus, history is refashioned again and again in the Philippines to naturalize class as a social idea, for instance, in the way Luna’s pedigree was reproduced in an earnest but ersatz museological way:

“With the house rebuilt to the satisfaction of all concerned, the Department of Public Highways Ladies Circle, an organization of wives of DPH engineers headed by Pepita Imperial Aquino, wife of Secretary Aquino, hunted high and low for 19th century pieces to furnish the house and for memorabilia to fill the museum on the ground floor. A hat-and-cane rack and a washstand came from far-off Liliw, Laguna, while a carriage of wicker and wood was found slowly falling to pieces in a dark storeroom in Vigan. The people of Badoc chipped in with curious items, mostly ethnic household articles used by their great-grandparents: head coverings made of gourds, spinning implements, baskets, chests, a berso (native cannon) and many other antediluvian pieces.”53

while the rich and erudite enjoy a flâneur-ism made delectable by the aura of a nationalism that is safe from interrogation:

“[The Luna-Hidalgo exhibit] permits an unexpected intellectual game. By physically bringing together works ascribed to the same artist, the Museum enables amateur critics to match wits with proud collector-owners and professional art historians and critics.”54

In sum, it is vital to wholly agree with the Filipino leaders and intellectuals (Roces and Joaquin among the most refined) who insist that the ilustrados created the nation. There is no reason to think otherwise. But, in the same breath, it must be asked, repeatedly, with passion and with a deep sense of outrage, whether this particular ilustrado-ness, a truncated, indeed mangled version of an egalitarian ideology—a version re-designed for Filipino elite use to lay claim to moral and cultural capital—can in truth be an instrument for creating a nation of equals.

Leaving Kassel and its Documenta. Hidalgo and Luna are on my mind because of the essay that has to be written on trains and airplanes outbound from Kassel. They are also on my mind because I went through Documenta keen to spot the “locations” when artists slipped from critiquing the global (de facto Euro-American) art establishment, to being exotic decorations in this establishment. Reading about Luna’s supposed last masterpiece, “Peuple et Rois,” was helpful: the painting marked a convincingly Realist turn, albeit belated, in Luna’s trajectory; yet, in its disdain for “the mob,”55 the painting also twisted against Realism’s clear-eyed and sympathetic regard for the European proletariat. Reading about Hidalgo’s major effort, “El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante y su Hijo” was similarly helpful: the painting marked a convincingly Realist turn as well; yet, its allegorical structure reverted it back-though not to the universe of Neoclassical pictorial conventions—definitely to the universe of Neoclassical imagination. At Documenta 11, I did not see slippage at this scale. But I did note with considerable alarm how the wonderful architecture of the main hall, the Fridericianum, and the supplemental exhibition space in the vast Orangerie of the Karlsaue, Neoclassicized, so to speak, all that postmodern anguish and bravura, expressed by the most politically astute artists of the world. Hypothetically, then, it may very well have been the case that even if Hidalgo and Luna achieved a greater synthesis between their ideological positions and their art-making—the political import of their work would still have been drained away, simply by force of circumstances. By the omnipotent structure of the (de facto Euro-American) art world. Nonetheless, while it is bad enough to have to meet with insuperable odds in the arenas of engagement with imperial power, then and now, it is always the more fearsome matter for egalitarian imperatives in art and politics to be deployed for conservative, aristocratic ends. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s