In the What-If Diaries, we have started with white. Thinking about white…its associations, its significances, its definitions. Words started to multiply in the forums: snow, angels, virgins, brides, sunlight, linen, home, moon, stars…
I wrote down some of the things that I think of when I think about white, and found it rather telling that, for me, anyway, white is not such a light or gentle thing. Could not relate to snow or anything frozen or cold. Thought of things like angels or glowing brides with a vague distaste. Realized that, in the tropical Philippines, white (fabric, anyway) was completely unnatural. White was introduced from somewhere else. Our own fabrics were earthy and strong-colored. It was the Spanish, coming along in the 1400s and colonizing, then Christianizing us, and turning the islands into a trading and military outpost for their empire, who insisted on white clothing and white linens, who wore white because it was cooler in the tropical heat.
So, for me, white is the color of colonial history, of Catholicism and the Church. I think of bleaching. I think of erasure. It’s hints at occupation, oppression, an elite ruling class comprised of uncomfortable, over-dressed foreigners, gasping like pale fish in the liquid air of the tropics.
Looking at white in other ways, too…taking my cue from Jude Hill. White as translucence or transparency. As negative space. As absence. As the opposite of shadows and darkness. And yet, without one, there is no other…Daemon est Deus inversus.
Jude Hill asks, “What if light could be created by dark?” And vice-versa, I’m thinking.
I took photographs of this embroidered head-covering. My mother made this, when she was a girl. She wore it to church, in the days when all the women covered their heads before entering a church, and the priest stood with his back to the congregation, talking intimately to God in Latin.
I’m not ready to cut it up for any fabric workshop, yet, but I let it inspire ideas. The embroidery on the veil used to be white, but when I was small I kept stealing this veil from her dressing room drawer, and she kept taking it back. Finally I took it with me up a mango tree, and tucked it away “safely” in a hollow in the tree trunk. Then forgot about it. It sat in leaf mould and beetles through a whole rainy season, balled up in that tree’s cavity. When I found it again, the white had yellowed. Distressed fabric. Distressed mother, too. She finally gave it to me just a few years ago.
Against the sun, the veil casts a shadow that is its opposite…the black net lets light through, the white embroidery blocks the lights, casts the darker shadow. Transparent darkness and opaque whiteness.
No projects gelling yet. Just a random eruption of little ideas…a flurry of fireworks, stars and bokeh when I close my eyes and look through the skin of my eyelids. I’m finding white difficult and prissy to approach.
I don’t own very much meaningful white fabric at all. We didn’t use white fabric at home for linens or curtains or anything like that…and I am not sentimental enough to drag away all my mother’s old fabric, even if we had. Leave the past where it is, I say, it’s just an encumbrance, something we carry around with us to make the ego feel more substantial, to give it more of a story to tell.
What can I use for this workshop? Back to the idea of trying to please our colonizers (who thought we were dirty, because we were dark) by whitening everything—fabric, skin. Today, many Filipinas still buy products with “skin whiteners”, and hide under umbrellas from the sun. And bathe three times a day—maybe because they hear that voice in their heads that tells them their skin is brown because it’s thick with dirt? Wash, wash, wash. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!…What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”
Thinking I may force my whites, by bleaching the life out of the colored fabrics that I do have.