Abstract

This paper takes up the visual art piece “Diwata: Queering Pre-Colonial Phillipine Mythology” by the artists Renz (he/him/they/them), Natu (he/him), and Ram (she/her) at the 2021 Southeast Asia Queer Cultural Festival. I argue that in performing tactics of transtemporal minoritarian aesthetics, the artists destabilize contemporary cultural acceptance of anti-queer and anti-trans norms. Engaging the transformative artistic embodiments of pre-colonial mythologies, I highlight these acts of performing within a queer affective spatio-temporal arc. I approach “Diwata” through the provocation that the artists’ embodied art enacts a performative: “My gender is pre-colonial.” Through this focus, I unpack several of the cultural figures embodied by the artists. I attend to the figures in three primary ways: aesthetic reading, mythological/historical reference, and artists’ reflection. Understanding the importance of embodiment to the politics of “Diwata,” I analyze the visual works as both image and performance. Working across studies in folklore, religion, and historiography, I expand the figures in relation to how their practices of gender and sexuality subvert contemporary norms. These artists from the Philippines enact a disobedient epistemological orientation to LGBTIQ expression. The artists do not simply announce that what would now be characterized as queer and trans histories were a part of their culture before colonial oppression; they instead reanimate these oral histories, mythological narratives, and persistent practices as manifest through their bodies. I argue that “Diwata” offers an alternative rendering of queerness and transness that thickens the topography of what counts as queer and trans theory. I also want to suggest that this queer Southeast Asian perspective provides a necessary alternative to the continual focus on the recent past as originary. The recent decades are continually posited as the most vital historical precursors for queer theory. These movements and theoretical formations are genealogically important in the United States and the reach of the US abroad. And, even as there is still much to unpack about the transnational currency of the term queer, the recent decades’ dominance in narratives about where queer theory might come from often reaffirms white Western centrality, even while attending to decolonial and anti-racist commitments. Working through the far distant past, this paper instead builds with transtemporal minoritarian aesthetic tactics animate gender-variant possibilities of embodied queer worldmaking.

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