Jeanne F. Jalandoni Documents the Filipino-American Experience with Traditional Textiles
When Spain ceded the colonial Philippines in 1989, the island nation had no way of knowing their revolutionary efforts would place them in the path of yet another colonial power. The US, led by President McKinley, sided with Filipino rebels during the revolution, promising independence and peace talks after the Spanish-American War. When the smoke cleared, McKinley instead issued the Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation, which outlined his colonizing policies in the Philippines.
Jeanne F. Jalandoni, whose mother grew up on a Philippine farm, creates mixed-media work that explores the aftermath of Spanish and American colonization in the Pacific island nation. “My mother often shared her childhood experiences growing up on a farm in Pinamalayan, and her relationship with food, the people, and farm animals,” she writes in her artist statement. “These stories were not only an access point to the Philippines, but also a way of embracing my ancestral and cultural roots.”
Using traditional Philippine garments, Jalandoni cloaks her painted figures in cultural artifacts from a distant homeland. “These garments are a documentation of my family’s history and the importance of keeping their memories alive,” the first-generation American notes. While Jalandoni’s large-scale works embrace her Philippine heritage, the artist also incorporates memories of growing up in America by recreating her childhood mementos with yarn. “I grew up living between multiple realities with the social pressures of not being Filipino or American enough,” Jalandoni explains. “Instead of fitting into stereotypes of one or the other, my artwork allows Filipino and American culture to exist in my collaged body of work, and declare myself as an interesting mix of both.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Jeanne F. Jalandoni discusses experimenting with textiles, avoiding burnout at all costs, and the ongoing cultural exchange between East and West.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Jeanne F. Jalandoni: Essentials on my shelf: Interactions of Color by Josef Albers (every painter or artist working with color needs this); History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos by Luis H. Francia; and Orientalism by Edward Said; Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (artist or not, everyone should read this).
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
JFJ: I think a lot about the Manila Galleon Trade route and cultural exchanges between the East and West. I’m also interested in immigration stories, and Asian/ Pacific American histories. Of course I spend a lot of time researching the relationship between America and the Philippines, as well as Spain’s cultural impact on the Philippines. Thinking about fashion, textile production, and food are some of the major subjects I pay special attention to and reference in my work.
What are you trying to express with your art?
JFJ: I’m trying to bring awareness and spark curiosity among Americans to consider Philippine history as American history. I also work to reclaim historic dehumanized documentation of Filipino individuals through depicting warm, welcoming familial portraits and scenes that I associate with my Filipino-American identity.
What do you wish you learned in art school but weren’t taught?
JFJ: Art business. It would have been beneficial learning early on how art institutions operate, obtain artwork, and what relationships between artists and galleries should be like. How to sell work on a professional level and write/read contracts to make sure you’re not getting cheated or taken advantage of.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
JFJ: Best advice: Properly schedule studio breaks in your work schedule to avoid burnout and don’t feel guilty about it. Enjoy life outside of the studio and use that to inform the ways you work.
Worst advice: Make work about your trauma.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
JFJ: I’m currently working as an artist full time, but I discipline myself to work a nine to five structure in my studio. I’m also very protective of my studio time, and luckily my friends and family respect that. If I don’t have the energy or inspiration to work in the studio, then I schedule museum/gallery visits or studio visits with artist friends to refresh my mind a bit. Long walks and bike rides are also really helpful in my practice. In the past when I worked part-time jobs, I always dedicated at least three hours to do work at the studio after a job.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
JFJ: In art school I remember feeling a strong sense of competitiveness among my peers. I’ve learned that sharing materials, techniques, opportunities, and art show recommendations is the most generous thing to do in the artist community. It’s a support system that is necessary for growth, especially in an isolating career, like being an independent artist.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
JFJ: Being able to create art and exhibit all year around, and always being in love with the work I’m making. Lately it’s been more important for me to give talks or curate shows that I actually want to see.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
JFJ: Working as a “brand ambassador” at the US Open. Haha, it was pretty mindless work, and a lot of interactions with rude customers; typical customer service job. It was also long hours on my feet in the hot sun, and my commute was an hour and a half, one way. I’m a huge tennis fan, so I enjoyed being in that atmosphere, and I did meet some amazing people, but I’d rather be there as a fan and not an employee.
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
JFJ: Historically significant artist. To me, that means having more of a deeper, cultural impact on a community, and that influence is a lot more meaningful to me than being commercially successful. I don’t think I ever wanted to be commercial because I fear no one will take my work seriously and only see its aesthetic value.
What role should money play in the art world?
JFJ: Money should play a bigger role between artists and institutions, meaning that artists and their assistants need to be paid a proper livable wage. There’s a lot of unpaid intern positions at art institutes offered to art students fresh out of college, which is a huge insult. Being an artist is a job, and the labor that goes behind making a work of art goes overlooked. The percentage of sales that some galleries take from art sales (especially from emerging artists) is really disproportionate to the amount of thought and labor that goes behind the production of an artwork. I also disagree with galleries and curators taking credit for an emerging artist’s success through their “discovery” of an artist — I think that’s one way of an attempt to justify the percentage cut.
Have you ever turned down an opportunity? Why?
JFJ: Yes, I’ve turned down opportunities because of burnout and not having enough turnaround time for deadlines. It’s difficult to work shows with a one-week duration without any compensation for participating or transportation of work.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
JFJ: I just finished a nine-month residency at the Textile Arts Center, and am excited to continue experimenting with weaving and machine knitting! There’s a lot of things we can do with textiles, and I love that high amount of control and manipulation, in combination with my background in oil painting. I finished the residency with some giant figure installation pieces, and I want to continue making work with the same ambition.
What do you do to maintain your mental health?
JFJ: I cook, bike, go on hikes, and sleep whenever my body demands it.
What do you dislike about the art world? How would you change it if you could?
JFJ: The art world can come off as being exclusive to a specific privileged community, and I wish it had less of that impression. I studied traditional art since I was in middle school, and I wasn’t educated about the contemporary art world until undergrad. If I could change that, I would try to organize programming, talks, and studio visits with schools and artists so there’s less of a mystery around being an artist. A lot of non-art people fail to see art’s importance in society and have a hard time acknowledging art as a valid career route. By having these early connections and discussions with artists (and gallerists, curators, etc.), the non-art world can see the potential and impact of art in other aspects of life.
Please share with us a real-life art-world horror story.
JFJ: Right after college, I was invited to exhibit in a group show in Berlin. There was an expensive fee to show my work and I was responsible for paying for my own shipping and handling/international fees, but thought I was getting a great opportunity so I ignored the red flag. I never got my paintings or money back, and was really heart-broken and traumatized by that experience. Don’t ever pay to show at a gallery, especially if you have never seen the gallery! And never pay for your own shipping and handling. Scams are the scariest situations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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