Image courtesy of Tahnee Ann Macabali Pantig.
Brooklyn-based artist and designer Tahnee Ann Macabali Pantig is digging deep into her Filipinx ancestry for her curatorial debut in the new AGO exhibition Faith and Fortune: Art from Across the Global Spanish Empire, opening June 8. Born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario, Pantig has drawn much of her artistic inspiration from her parent’s immigration story and her time spent within Toronto’s Filipinx community. Her curatorial contribution to the exhibition – which features works from Latin America, the Philippines and Spain made between 1492 and 1898 – is a large installation of historical daguerreotype photographs from the Philippines.
For our final week of Museum Month, we connected with Pantig to get more insight about her Filipinx heritage, her upbringing in Scarborough, and how her desire to shape narratives about people from the Philippines led to her debut as a curator.
AGOinsider: As a first-time curator, what was your curatorial approach to Faith and Fortune? What did you draw on and what were you inspired by?
Pantig: My curatorial approach to Faith and Fortune is very much based on my lived experiences being born and raised in Scarborough, in the Toronto Filipinx community. I've drawn much of my inspiration from my parents' migration stories from Pampanga and Baguio City in the Philippines; what was it like for them coming to Canada? What stories did they see of themselves? What stories did they not see? I was also inspired by my own experiences growing up in Toronto and not feeling like I had stories about being Filipinx reflected back to me. Through this show I set out to create the type of representation I would have loved to have seen as a young person in this city.
AGOinsider: Your Filipinx heritage is central to your work as an artist and curator. In your opinion, what does this exhibition mean for the Toronto Filipinx community? Why is it important?
Pantig: The importance of the daguerreotypes to the Toronto Filipinx community cannot be overstated. As the first photographic imagery on record of the Philippines, these objects play an important role in the history of photographic technology and in the history and narrative of the Philippines and the Philippine people. To be able to show these to the public for the first time and have the Philippines named as a part of a major exhibit at the AGO is incredibly significant to me. Visual representations shape how we see the world and cultures. I hope these daguerreotypes will influence the stories that the Toronto Filipinx community tells themselves, that in these images, they'll see their home in a way they haven't seen it before.
AGOinsider: Tell us more about daguerreotypes. When did you first encounter them and why are they special to you?
Pantig: I first learned about these daguerreotypes through Adam Harris Levine, AGO Assistant Curator, European Art, and the lead curator for Faith and Fortune. Adam and I have a long-standing friendship and have often conversed about our experiences with me being Filipinx and Adam being Puerto Rican. Adam approached me about the idea of having a show that featured art from the former Spanish colonies and when I learned about the daguerreotypes, I suggested that maybe it'd be worthwhile to consider having the daguerreotypes be a standalone show in addition to a part of the larger exhibition. My interest in these daguerreotypes comes from a place of celebration and pride for the richness of our stories as a Filipinx community and Filipinx Canadians. But also from a place of tension and conflict: these landscapes were captured by Europeans for European audiences and means. I want to interrogate and decolonize the stories that have been authored by European perspectives about ourselves. I want to reclaim these images for us.
AGOinsider: In addition to this new curatorial chapter of your career, you are also an artist. Tell us more about your art practice. How does your curatorial work tie into your practice?
Pantig: My art practice is a funny one. I'm also a designer and a big part of that work is that my design work is accountable to someone – e.g., a client, a stakeholder, a community. My art practice is actually quite the opposite; it's accountable to no one, not even to me. I just happen to be the instrument that lets these ideas come through into the world in whatever medium they choose to come through, whether that's banana leaves, words, watercolours or photographs. This curatorial project ties into my art practice in that I feel like my responsibility has been to steward the daguerreotypes in the story and ideas they want to share with the world. It sounds silly, but sometimes I just have to get quiet, and listen to the daguerreotypes to see what they want me to say to the world on their behalf.
AGOinsider: What’s next for you? Any new curatorial projects on the horizon? If not, what does a dream curation project look like for you?
Pantig: What's next for me is a lot of rest! This project has been incredible and it's also been a lot of work. I'm looking forward to resting and letting all these new ideas, questions and connections simmer beneath the surface and influence me in new ways. I'm also looking forward to putting down my curatorial hat for a moment and shifting my focus back to my art practice. I'm certain that this experience will influence my art in exciting ways and I can't wait to bring new pieces into the world.
Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire opens at the AGO on June 8, remaining on view until October. Stay tuned to the AGOinsider for more art news from the AGO and beyond.