A conversation with Professor Dr. Kate Rigby and Jake Sherman
May and Mik Gaspay | Balikbayan
An exhibition on display in the Desai | Matta Gallery October 2 through December 15th
[Balikbayan] is a literal translation is return (balk) home/country (bayan). Its a term used to distinguish Filipinos who have lived/worked overseas and return home. Me and my mom are balikbayans and we look back at our old home and remember it through our quilted works.
Depending on who is telling the story, the meaning of HOME can change. It might conjure the shape of a structure or the feeling of a warm hug. It might evoke the taste of a favorite meal or the smell of wet sidewalk. Some homes hold footsteps of our ancestors; the laughter of children might echo off the walls. Others hold hard things, things unspoken, bottled up, or sealed away. Most hold both.
When a house is no longer standing, or new residents have moved in, where do we hold all that was once found in that place? What do we pass on to the next generations?
May and Mik Gaspay, a Mother and Son who collaborate on quilted objects and places, began by creating quilts of May’s grandfather’s home in the Philippines. The jungle had long ago claimed the structure, a loss at once beautiful and devastating. This home—where May grew up and several generations of their family had lived—was now gone.
When the building does not exist we must find other ways to hold and pass down stories.
Each approaches quilting from a very different perspective. May is precise and mathematical; Mik is more conceptually oriented. But I think the strength of the foundation holds so that I can be messy without jeopardizing the whole piece.
The Door—which makes space for the outside to come in—is a quilt in two panels. One is perpendicular to the wall, a front door made from fabric printed with the textures of wood and embroidered with names of the family members who lived in the home. The other quilt, parallel to the wall, depicts the jungle, fabric pieces sewn and quilted in the shape of botanicals.
There’s also a four panel quilt of the façade of the family home and a quilted Volkswagen Bug, their first family car. A mother’s way to more easily transport her family, and a now-grown man with a family of his own. Six quilted balikbayan boxes sit on a hand built and painted shipping pallet that acts as a pedestal. These boxes, used by Filipino families living in the US to send gifts and goods home to their families in the Philippines are both a care package and a way to stay connected.
The works in this exhibition bridge the distinct and overlapping perspectives and memories of a mother and son, exploring and revealing home, as it’s made and continues to change. They are a way to pass down family lore, a way to make and negotiate the spaces between memories, and a way for a mother to answer the question, “How do I do something with what I know, and also give something to my son?”