Maia Cruz Palileo: Days Later, Down River

Opening: Saturday, Apr 1, 2023 4 – 7 pm
Saturday, Apr 1 – May 26, 2023

451 N. Paulina
Chicago, IL 60622

Saturday, April 1, 4pm | Artist Talk: Maia Cruz Palileo and Kim Nguyen

moniquemeloche is pleased to present Maia Cruz Palileo: Days Later, Down River, the artist’s third solo show with the gallery. Palileo is a multidisciplinary artist whose paintings, installations, sculptures, and drawings navigate themes of migration and the persistence of tacit knowledge in the face of assimilation. The works on view map an archival, geological, and spiritual topography of the Palileo family’s homeland—the Philippines—and are inspired by their recent residency at the University of Michigan, which houses one of the largest collections of Filipino artifacts outside of the country. Building off their past research at the Newberry Library in Chicago and their personal family archive, Palileo explores the Bentley Historical Library’s photographic archive of Frank C. Gates, a professor of botany at the University of the Philippines (1912-1915) and objects from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology’s Philippines collection. By incorporating research from these various archives, their paintings recontextualize stories, portraits, and images to resuscitate and remove from the exploitative gaze of the ethnographic image. 

While at the archive, Palileo discovered photo albums of Mount Makiling and Mount Banahaw, dormant volcanoes in the Laguna region of the Philippines. Each mountain is a birthplace of legend; Mount Makiling is the home of the protective spirit Makiling, whose legend was written about by national hero José Rizal, and Banahaw is a sacred mountain for spiritual pilgrimage. These albums served as a portal into the artist’s familial relation to this land, making connections to artifacts in their personal collection of family photographs, blessed amulets, and oral histories. As with volcanoes, they propose history as a site where perceived extinction and dormancy can be uncovered to reveal activity and potential. Memorializing the legacy of invisible histories, dense layers of foliage reveal mysterious figures shrouded by overgrowth and shadow. Parasitic liana vines further complicate the canvas. Native to tropical forests, these rapidly expanding woody vines are increasingly shady, choking rainforest trees, and competing for resources. In contrast, when Rizal writes of the mountain forests in Mariang Makiling he describes, "Tall trees with straight and mossy trunks, among whose branches the vines weave most beautiful laces embroidered with flowers.” Palileo renders the liana’s proliferation, interlacing the visible and invisible through layers of paint, echoing the selective means through which history is presented.

Translating these documents into a creative medium, Palileo cuts out archival images and reassembles them into panoramas where figures occupy mirrored and layered landscapes, offering new dimensions that intertwine ancestry, flora, and fauna. Transferring collaged black-and-white photographs into a vibrant palette, they pollinate a reimagined terrain in paint—an act of becoming where brush strokes render their homeland anew with self-possession and agency. At the center of the exhibition is a banig, a century-old woven mat loaned from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology; an object used as a place for daily rest and gathering. Surrounded by projections of tree canopies and hand-sculpted clay figures, their foraged memories and histories honor the Filipino heritage that endured during the colonial era. Days Later, Down River uses installation, painting, projection, and ceramic to destabilize fixed narratives from the imperial occupation of the country, reframing artifacts into imagined sacred realms for their ancestors, and inviting viewers the chance to walk into Palileo’s imaginative spaces.