Indio-Genius: Kidlat Tahimik subverts Philippine colonial history

March 17, 2023

Galleon ship and Dap-ay

Images courtesy of the National Museum of the Philippines and R.C. Ladrido

Kidlat Tahimik unleashes the full force of his creative energy in a massive exhibition, INDIO-GENIUS: 500 Taon ng Labanang Kultural (1521-2021), at the National Museum of Anthropology until June 2023. The major installations are from his exhibition in 2022, Magellan, Marilyn, Mickey Mouse & Fr. Damaso: 500 Years of Conquistador RockStars, at the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid organized by Museo Sofia Reina.

The term “indi-genius” was coined by Tahimik’s Ifugao mentor, Lopes Na-Uyac (later changed into indio-genius by the artist), referring to the knowledge and wisdom of the country’s indigenous communities.  “Indio” was a derogatory term for a native used by Spanish colonial authorities.

Overall, the exhibition depicts three key moments in the history of colonialism in the Philippines in three major cluster of installations: in 1521, the arrival of the Magellan expedition and the death of Magellan in Mactan, Cebu; in 1887, the General Exposition of the Philippine Islands at the Palacio de Cristal, built to house the exposition, and the role of Jose Rizal and others in the struggle for independence against Spain; and finally, the continuing culture wars  against the insidious influence of Hollywood at the expense of indigenous culture.


Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, a journalist, had described aptly that Filipinos have spent “300 years in the convent and 50 years in Hollywood.”

Seemingly chaotic and overwhelming at first glance, Indio-Genius reflects Tahimik’s quirky style following his gut feel or kapa-kapa, a Bathala na attitude. Moreover, the multidimensional installations echo and reinterpret imagery from his film narratives. In collaboration with local artisans in Baguio, the installations use driftwood, tree barks, rattan, dried plants, coconuts, seashells, textiles, bones, and found objects.

1521: Ikeng’s world

In the backdrop of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition of 1521, Tahimik’s counter-history focuses on Enrique de Malacca, Magellan’s Malay slave who spoke the language of the islanders.

Ikeng’s traditional knowledge of the stars and nature guided Magellan through the Strait that now bears his name and into the Pacific Ocean. In Tahimik’s narrative, Ikeng was the first person to circumnavigate the world, and not the Spaniards.

Homage to Juan Luna’s Spoliarium by Kabunyan de Guia

An almost life-sized galleon, made of wood planks and driftwood represents Victoria, the only ship that made it back to Spain. A circular ring of rattan baskets and wooden deities hovers over the ship, invoking the dap-ay, the traditional process of decision-making by a council of elders in Cordillera communities.

In a nearby installation, Lapulapu, as a symbol of resistance, and his wife Bulakna deliver the fatal blow to Magellan who died in Mactan, Cebu in 1521 in the hands of the locals. The battle between Lapulapu and the Portuguese explorer is also a cultural battle, notes Tahimik.

MadExpo 1887

Amidst the reddish glow of neon lights, the installation refers to the 1887 Philippine Exposition in Madrid by Spain’s Ministry of Overseas Colonies where flora, fauna, and people were part of an exotic display of its colony. In a letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt, Jose Rizal protested, “How dare they treat the Ygorottes as human zoo?”  It was the Archbishop of Manila, Pedro Payo, who was behind the exhibition of 47 naturales.

Here, Jose Rizal is dressed in an overcoat and a bahag, holding a plume in one hand as a writer, and a camera as a filmmaker, on the other hand. In another installation, a wolf dressed in a friar’s robe is grasping a naked woman’s waist, representing Fr. Damaso and Maria Clara, characters in Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere, 1887.

Maria Clara and Padre Damaso

The exposition in Madrid underscores Spain’s colonialist and racist policy towards the Philippine inhabitants, the abuse and corruption of the Spanish Catholic Church, and local acts of resistance during this period.

Culture wars, today

A giant Trojan Horse stands tall at the museum’s balcony, with tiny Spidermans dangling around it, representing Tahimik’s long-standing critique on the corrosive effect of the ubiquitous American pop culture and other foreign cultural fads at the expense of local myths, epics, and folk tales all over the world.

Wooden sculptures depict Inhabian, the wind goddess of the Igorots, blowing away Marilyn Monroe, the wind goddess of Hollywood.

As Tahimik reminds us, we have our own mythologies and our own narratives, let’s tell our own stories.

Trojan Horse of Hollywood

Forever provocateur

Born in Baguio, Eric Oteyza de Guia (1942) who renamed himself as Kidlat Tahimik, studied theater and finished an MBA degree in the United States. While working at the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation in Paris, he became disenchanted with the capitalist world order, tore up his MBA diploma, and became a self-taught filmmaker.

A leading Asian independent filmmaker, Tahimik’s awards include the International Critics’ Prize at Berlinale (1977) for his film Mababangong Bangungot; Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize Laureate (2012), the Netherlands’s Prince Claus Laureate Award (2018), and the Overkill Prize, Toronto Images Festival (2021). At home, he was conferred as National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts in 2018. 

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VERA Files is a nonstock, nonprofit, independent media organization. Founded in March 2008, it is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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