The Medium is an Interface: How image-as-interface surfaces the layers in photographs of the Igorot European Expositions (1887-1913)

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10th Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) Consultation 

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

July 26-29, 2019

The Medium is an Interface: How image-as-interface surfaces the layers in photographs of the Igorot European Expositions (1887-1913) 

Doris Wilson 


The Igorot expositions in Europe were staged in Madrid in 1887 and in other cities of Europe from 1911-1913. The 1887 exposition was sponsored by the imperial Spanish regime to further advance its colonial agenda while the expositions in 1911-1913 were American commercial ventures motivated by profit. Although the expositions were staged more than a century ago, their traces are still found through photographic images, physical locations and artifacts, and multimedia access. 

In 2017, the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología) in Madrid sponsored a temporary exhibit on the images and artifacts of the 1887 Madrid Exposition. By uncovering the ‘layers’ of the photographic images, this paper shows how the ‘savage’ Igorot image showcased in the 1887 Madrid Exposition was a constructed image that concealed the rich personalities and cultures of the Igorots. Moreover, that the ‘village life’ shown in the Rancheria was a decontextualized performance of bits and fragments of the complex village lives of the ‘actors’ from various tribes assembled for the Igorrote village. 

The American-led Exhibition Company’s exposition of Igorots in various cities of Europe from 1911 to 1913, on the other hand, reconfigured the value of the performance of culture and the relationship between the exhibition master and the Igorots. The ‘savage’ image of the Igorot was shifted from justifying the need for colonial rule to responding to the marketing demand to compete with other exhibition groups especially those following a similar narrative: a band of backward, uncivilized, and savage people living as if they were in their own community. With profit-making as the driving objective, the constructed photographic images highlighted, advertised, and represented Igorot ‘savageness’ as the main product of the Igorrote village. The value of the performance of culture was equated with its capacity to draw a large paying audience, thus, adding the layer of the Igorots as colonial subjects and performance workers at the same time. 

Making sense of the photographic images poses an important question on methodology. If indexicality is the basis of relating with images, how does one account for the showcasing of the Igorots as savages in these expositions? If representation is the focus, how does one account for the lack of images in other places of exhibition? How does one account for the feeling of being at the same space but in a different time? How will imagining the image relate to understanding the exposition? This study explores the photographic images of the Igorots in European Expositions by rethinking the concepts of the image and interface. It also proposes to use the image-as-interface as a mode of engagement that brings to the surface the contextual layers through the details of the photographic image. The spectacle of representation is just one among the possible layers. The interface highlights the photographic image as a medium that links and traces the various layers of political, economic, or cultural contexts. 


Keywords: European Expositions, Igorots, image, interface, image-as-interface. 

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