Anna Ye: On Michael Arcega

Michael Arcega, SPAM/MAPS

In this essay, I’ll be reviewing the art works of Michael Arcega a conceptual artist who uses history as his medium. The works that I am looking at are Spam/Maps, Conquistadourkes, and Manila Galleon Trade: Past describes Present. The first piece Spam/Maps shows bits of spam luncheon meat spread across in the form of the world map and Oceania. The second piece of work Conquistadourkes displays Manila file folders used as armor for the conquistador figures. In the third piece Manila Galleon Trade shows a Manila galleon the El Conquistadork displayed and used to voyage in the Tomales Bay. Also, it presents the artist wearing the Manila files as a conquistador. According to Arcega in an article from KQED, “History tends to keep repeating, so I tend to mine history for content and try to apply it to current events.” Michael Arcega. (n.d.). Arcega speaks his inspirational words of how he came to create art through past historical events.

In the body of the work, the artist is trying to convey a message to viewers about Filipino history by incorporating it into current events in his art pieces. I believe the message was successful in reaching the spectators because these collections of compositions hold lots of knowledge and antiquity from its view. These works of arts succeeded in reaching the audience because it’s made well detailed and symbolizes the history in which imperialism and socio-political issues has not been forgotten. In the Spam/Maps art piece, the rations of meat is well crafted into states and it signifies how important this type of food source was for the Pacific Island community because it was simple to cook, easy to travel with, but mostly since it is the reason for obesity. This is why I think Arcega decided to show this to people, so that they will understand that past mistakes should not define our future instead it could be changed if we cut down on spam. Also, the design for the world map and Oceania are different in coloring as if the tone is changing where one is lighter as if its raw meat which has not been cooked as of yet, while the other has a darker color like it’s been cooked or overheated. This piece uses the spam’s cast of shadow to give greater depth of realism to the creative work. My point of view upon this study is that the spam teaches its reviewers how America has changed society.

The next artistic production that is the Conquistadourkes is on suits of armor made entirely of Manila folders in replication of the past legendary conquistadors whom wore these types of armor in battle. Arcega stated in KQED’s article that, “I use manila folders to talk about trade and business and colonialism.” Michael Arcega. (n.d.). I think he used Manila folder’s to design his artwork because it symbolizes business, trade, and colonialism itself since in modern times people who owns businesses that are high in power control the economic world. As mentioned in the article, “Arcega emphasizes the frameworks of power that fueled the 16th- and 20th-century European and Spanish conquests in the Philippines.” Michael Arcega. (n.d.). He hopes that people will understand his work and why he based it upon this era. Also, he most likely chose this past history because the historical events associated in this certain time has repeatedly happen continually. As written in the article, “As for the paper armor so prominently displayed in the same show, Arcega says that it points to both the common material’s economic implications and its fragility.” Michael Arcega. (n.d.). The composition of this piece is used with Manila folders because the artist wanted to show how in the past military strength was weak, but had power in trade. The conquistador’s tone is simple, yet remarkably constructed as the Manila folders are of plain cream color. The symbols in the center of the armor exhibits a griffin, the sun, a bear, and a lion which the artist crafted onto the manila folder as a form of distinguishing which conquistadors he is mentioning in his work. My opinion on this artistic design is how amazing it looks because of the details in the work and the arrangement shows me how any type of material can create great works of art if used well. Also, I find that the position it’s arranged in shows people how it was probably hard for easy movement back in the days when people wore those suits of armor.

Michael Arcega, The Maiden Voyage of El Conquistadork

Lastly, the third creative work which is the Manila Galleon Trade: Past describes Present is of El Conquistadork a ship made from Manila folders just like the conquistador suits and an image of the artist wearing the armor in which he created himself. As stated in the article, “The boat’s solid construction is characteristic of Arcega’s meticulous approach to his work.” Michael Arcega. (n.d.). This shows the composition of the ship is truly high-end; this work reflects how the artist put in lots of time and effort to make and considering the outcome is absolutely astonishing. And from the image said to be the maiden voyage where Michael got to use his ship to sail in Tomales Bay gives me notice how talented he is at his job because of the material used for the construction of the ship; it is surprising that there were not any leaks throughout his voyage. Furthermore, he uses wordplay in his artwork when he says Manila folders and Manila Galleon which corresponds to Manila in the city of the Philippines on purpose because he wants people to learn about the historical events and issues that happen in the Philippines. The tone of the El Conquistadork ship tells me that it is similar to the conquistador suits based on the simple colors and material used to forge it. Also, I presume that both are similar in tone because in the suits of armor it was said to show frailty of the military might, but strength in trade which could mean that there were not enough men to be in power, but they have a stronghold in trade where ships are required. From my point of view, this ship is made profoundly to be sturdy, so viewers are able to see the significance means of the ship.

My process of discovery in understanding these works is viewing each one in a different perspective while acknowledging the information it states and observing it thoroughly. The questions I have on my mind about the artist’s works is how he decided on creating these master pieces based on historical events and what message he has for the viewers. I think that the work is telling people about the importance of history, so that it does not repeat itself and from the displays of his pieces it creates thoughts of why history continues to be repetitive. He uses wordplay and figurative language in his artwork’s titles such as Spam spelled backwards is Maps and Conquistadork ending with the word dork. He does this so that it would be more effective, persuasive, and impactful in the viewer’s eyes. My experience with viewing this work of art is inspirational because my passion in art finds me intrigued about what Arcega has to say about his showpiece. My favorite pieces in the collection are the conquistador’s suits of armor and the El Conquistadork ship. I think that both works are incredibly fascinating to look at; also with the usage of Manila folders makes it even more so creative and especially unique. I would definitely recommend these works of art to others because it represents the past in the present which is a good symbolical form of showing people that mistakes can be changed and incorporated into our future if we learn from these fault. I think that people who have an interest in art or find historical events interesting should view this artwork, but not only them; other people like teachers, students, or anyone for that matter should view it. I believe that the pieces of art should be displayed in all sorts of art galleries or used in art classes to teach students so that they could learn from it.

In conclusion, my overview of Arcega’s creative works is that it gives people a sense of vision in what he wants the people themselves to know and it shows great promise in inspiring others to understand more about the past, so that hopefully history does not have to repeat so much. The Spam/Maps showed me how the United States took the world by storm with the massive spread of luncheon meat through the Pacific Island nations. The Conquistadourkes taught me about the 16th and 20th century when military strength is weak and trade was strong from the materials Arcega used to the detailed craftsmanship of the suits of armor. And the Manila Galleon Trade: Past describes Present revealed to me that in the past shipwrights built sturdy durable ships for trade in addition to, ships for transportation and cargo. Arcega’s works of art teaches people how history stays the same because it is repetitive and adding to it some humor by using wordplay in the artwork’s titles shows us that he likes puns, but more importantly about the issues that deeply affect Filipino history. Overall, I believe conceptual art helps people analyze ideas more profoundly and through this will society begin to understand the process that leads repeating history in which it could be changed to pave a way for a new future.

Work Cited

Arcega, M. (n.d.). Conquistadourkes. Retrieved December 14, 2016, from

Arcega, M. (n.d.). Manila Galleon Trade: Past describes Present. Retrieved December 14, 2016, from

Arcega, M. (n.d.). SPAM/MAPS. Retrieved December 14, 2016, from

Michael Arcega. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2016, from