Focusing (Vol. II), 2016

Focusing (Vol. II) is part of a broad investigation of the breath located in the colonial history of the Philippines. Exploring the impact of controlled exhalations, the body of work in this show traces the presence of Filipinos in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, specifically the Philippine Constabulary Band.

As a group of militarized musicians recruited from former colonial Spanish configurations, the Philippine Constabulary (PCB) was organized, trained, and led by Walter Howard Loving. The son of a former slave, Loving’s musicianship as a cornettist and regimental bandleader sealed William Howard Taft’s (then Governor General of the Philippines) invitation to organize the PCB in 1902, shortly after the US had claimed colonial governance of the Philippines. Then, in 1904, Loving was brought to the World’s Fair as part of the Philippine pavillions in connection with the ‘live zoo’ exhibition of Filipinos as a way to showcase militarized Filipinos as “civilized” as opposed to their “savage” bretheren. Though their stay in the US was short, the PCB justified colonial presence throughout the islands within the American imaginary and cemented another thirty-four years of colonial, militarized rule.

Touching on the representation of savagery within a “civilized” nation, control, freedom, and themes of adaptation and displacement, this work begins to show the entangled impact and legacy of colonialism as Filipinos sought their own liberation. Within the context of the Philippine Constabulary Band, the enactment of playing a wind instrument becomes part of an experience of constricting the breath that articulates methods of control, power, and restriction. The marching band can thus be seen as a technology through which US colonialism is able to impose its own imaginary, though a more complex and unsettling picture emergees as marching band cultures continue to flourish in the Philippines to this day. And while variations of the PCB continue to perform, compete, and organize throughout the Philippines, pointing to the lasting legacy of militarization, Filipino bands have always historically “added their own flavor”, adapting their own musical and cultural sensibilities to what was otherwise written and constructed as “purely American”.