Robe à l’anglaise (2021-) is an ongoing photographic series that negotiates my lived experience as a “mestizo” (i.e. a person of “mixed” Filipino descent). This is primarily managed by wearing a costume based on the 18th century dress known as a robe à l’anglaise (lit. “English dress”). The choice of dress in this context refers to colonialist legacies in contemporary cultures. For instance, the symbiosis of the robe à l’anglaise with my physical body speaks to the treatment of people considered “mixed race” in a postcolonial world.
In the colonialist mindset, “mixed race” people are treated as the physical product of interracial relations. As such, their presence disturbs a status quo that relies on the separation of people according to conceptions of “race”. Accordingly, “mixed race” people have been framed as anomalies and subjected to assimilation practices to erase their perceived in-betweenness. As a “mestizo”, my donning of the robe à l’anglaise – the aptly named dress once favoured by a colonialist elite – in contemporary settings speaks to the legacy of such practices in the modern period.
Moreover, the series reflects the reduction of “mixed race” people into commodities. This concern is managed by the composition of the photographs as they refer to the aesthetic conventions of European art since the colonial period. For instance, “mestizo” people of European descent are both idealised and objectified in the Philippines as a form of capital given their connection to “whiteness”. In other words, “mestizo” of European descent are commodified for their connection to the elite of colonialist social systems. This experience connects with the way that Western art conventions remain dominant while their corresponding market power commodifies their subjects in the process. As such, the composition of the images both suggests and demonstrates the Eurocentric conventions that objectify the project’s subject in a capitalist-colonialist system.
Nonetheless, the series may also undermine the colonialist legacies that it conveys. This is because the photographs manage an ever increasing collection of material that speak to a variety of identities, stories, and experiences. In other words, a multifaceted reading of the images can subvert the colonialist legacies that objectify the subject therein. For instance, the identity of the subject is transformed as they interact with different objects and take on different roles across changing contexts. Thus, the subject can achieve significance beyond the colonialist paradigm. This is an objective of my art practice generally.
Overall, Robe à l’anglaise may pose a number of questions about identity in contemporary cultures. How much has colonialism affected our understanding of identity? Is “mixed race” redundant or does it remain relevant in the modern period? Can we live without separatist notions of cultural identity or do we rely on them in a capitalist system?