Mailiw: Conversations of home at the dinner table

Installation discussed home, community, language and diaspora at Nuit Blanche

provided photo Ally Gonzalo

Local artists and their works filled Winnipeg’s Exchange District and downtown area on the evening of Sept. 23 for Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, an annual nighttime event that celebrates and explores contemporary art. Among the many installations was Mailiw, a love letter to the Philippines and to the desire to return home created by local queer and non-binary Filipinx artist Ally Gonzalo.

Gonzalo’s journey to Nuit Blanche Winnipeg began when they received an email from Culture Days Manitoba, a non-profit that produces the event alongside the Winnipeg Arts Council. The organization invited Gonzalo and other local artists to submit pitches for art installations, and wanted to see what artists who had never made installations would come up with.

Mailiw, which means “homesick” in Pangasinan, was a three-dimensional installation that Gonzalo designed to represent the flag of the Philippines through its use and distribution of colour  — red and blue on the walls, white on the floor and gold on a table and three chairs.

The country’s national anthem was written on the walls of the exhibit in Baybayin, a pre-colonial script from the Philippines. Gonzalo said this was their way to reclaim the script and show others that it can still be learned and used today.

Photographs from Gonzalo’s archives were also displayed on the walls of the exhibit. Gonzalo chose eight photos, all taken about three years before they immigrated to Canada, to symbolize the eight revolutionary provinces in the Philippines that rose against the Spanish. 

The interior of the installation represented Filipino hospitality and the experience of being welcomed into a Filipino home. A table was set up with Filipino music playing underneath it, and actual food was placed on the table for people to take. 

“The installation is to invite people to come in,” Gonzalo said, adding that the exhibit was meant to convey “the atmosphere of what a Filipino home looks like.”

Home and feelings of homesickness were the main inspiration for Mailiw according to Gonzalo, who last went back to the Philippines four years ago. 

The current political climate back in the Philippines and circumstances around the world make Gonzalo “a little bit scared” to return home.

“Us immigrants have a lot of reasons to want to go home and a lot of reasons that we’re not able to go home,” they said. 

They explained that the exhibit is “a dedication, a tribute to all my fellow immigrants. Not just the Filipinx community, not just people from my community, but anyone whose idea of home […] is amorphous.” 

While Nuit Blanche is now said and done, Mailiw’s legacy is not finished. The photographs used for the installation will be up for auction, and the funds raised will go to Art City, a non-profit community art studio that provides free programming for all ages, and to Sunshine House, a harm reduction and social inclusion-focused community drop-in and resource centre. 

Gonzalo said they chose these organizations because of the work both do with youth. They said arts and creativity were missing from their adolescence, as they were expected to pursue careers in different fields. 

“I’m an outlier in my family, pretty much the black sheep, but I’m lucky that they’re supporting me,” Gonzalo said. 

The auction will be online through Gonzalo, and further details will be provided through their Instagram page. 

Instead of using real names for the auction, Gonzalo will use Instagram usernames to add some “levity” to the process. They stressed that despite the hardships queer communities are facing currently, there is “always time for queer joy, […] there is time for resilience.” 

“This is actually the time to show, ‘hey, fuck you, we’re still here, we’re still happy.’” 

Gonzalo said they are currently focusing on rest, as making art “takes a lot out of you, no matter how much you like what you do,” but they do have aspirations for the future.

“If we’re shooting high, I am wanting to have my works eventually displayed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery,” they said, adding that being one of the first Filipinx artists to have their work displayed at the gallery would be an amazing experience. 

Creating Mailiw for Nuit Blanche Winnipeg made Gonzalo realize how much their art matters, not only to them, but to others as well.

“It’s made them feel things, and I felt like I’ve accomplished my goal,” they said. 

More details regarding the Mailiw print auction can be found on Gonzalo’s Instagram page, @Jhapes.