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VIDEOPOEM: Where the nilads grow

This project was filmed & edited with respect on unceded lands of the Darkinjung, Wangal & Gadigal peoples.

‘Where the nilads grow’ is a disruption of a romanticised tale of colonial woe set in Manila, in the archipelago now known as ‘the Philippines’:

As the story went on, two Spaniards came and asked where the flowers came from. The woman* who was at loss of the place where exactly the flowers are located answered vaguely, ‘Sa may mga Nilad’ (where the Nilads are). The native as well as foreigners began addressing the place ‘Sa may Nilad’ since then. Soon, people, be it the natives, the conquerors or visitors, came to know the area as ‘Sa Maynila.’

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehistory_of_Manila

Stories like this are common in romanticised colonialist discourse, where the brown ‘native’ body is objectified for the white, capitalist, patriarchal gaze and its desire for self-assertion & dominance. Taking away agency from the objectified brown woman’s body presupposes the lie of her consent, setting the stage for the objectification and consequential colonisation of the land she inhibits & which inhibits her.

From Gauguin, to Taylor Swift’s colonial-fantasy Africa, to white academics who are awarded grants and opportunities to author Filipino experiences (that are not afforded to, y’know, actual Filipinos) — this feeding into the Orientalist gaze evokes the old gross, fetishist narratives that continue to cause real harm to real, living people today.

The violence of erasure reinforces the systemic delusions of whitewashed history. The true intentions & objectives of colonialism are so flimsy, so inherently selfish and rooted in ideas of cruelty, scarcity & greed — that it must rely on its own delusions to justify its own terrible means.

The violence inflicted upon brown & black women’s bodies is inflicted again through the repeated retelling of these stories; mirroring the environmental & economic violence which the ongoing colonial project inflicts in its insatiable need for surplus & acquisition.

Defiantly, women of colour have long been writing ourselves into historical existence as a practice of restoration, “to restore that body to wholeness, in (re)configuraions which we determine for ourselves” (Reyes 2011). In my videopoem, I hoped to humanise the politicised Filipina body, as well as earth, sky & sea as sites of devastation & conquest — but also of powerful resilience, resistance, beauty & rebirth.

In ‘Where the nilads grow’, I wanted to explore the intergenerational traumas of silence & erasure within my own family history & within my people’s histories. This is an attempt to restore the women at the centre of the story — “to write those mythical and historical voices out of submergence, and have them reveal the myriad ways in which they persevered and survived that patriarchal deluge of rapacious Spanish conquistadors, rapacious Spanish clergymen, rapacious American soldiers, rapacious Christian missionaries, rapacious Japanese soldiers, and so on” (Reyes 2011).

Women like the ones at the centre of this story have long been some of the staunchest defenders of human & land rights, protectors against imperialist plunder in ancestral lands. In the Philippines, Lumad communities of women & girls in South Mindanao do this honourable work, despite facing state violence & oppression for simply defending their ancestral lands from imperialist corporate interests (including Australian owned & co-owned companies).

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*The version of this story I originally came across had two Maynilad women at it’s centre.

'Teaching and Writing Pinay Lives and Voices' by Barbara Jane Reyes, 2012.

Thank you to Emerging Writers' Festival & Poetry Film Portal for exhibiting this videopoem in this year's online festival. Check out the full exhibition here, which also features the wonderful immersive works of Trixi Rosa, Ruby Kammoora, Chelle De Stefano & Claire Albrecht.

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