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"See and Missed": New York artist brings attention to Filipino history of Morro Bay

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Members of the SLO Museum of Art discussing Hoffman's exhibit

There is a new artistic and historical experience for communities across San Luis Obispo County to immerse themselves in. The artist's name is Camille Hoffman, and her exhibit aims to call attention toward the history of the first documented Filipinos on Chumash land — a history she says has been forgotten.

Hoffman’s ancestry is rooted in Filipino history. Upon arriving in San Luis Obispo, she decided she wanted to tell the story of the first documented arrival of Filipinos on the Chumash land of Morro Bay.

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Art piece from Camille Hoffman's exhibit hanging on the wall

“The Filipino and Chumash story is interconnected, and we can’t dismiss the fact that it’s layered. It really contends with a very violent colonial past that continues to impact us,” said Hoffman.

In 1587 the first documented Filipinos reached
Chumash land. They arrived in Morro Bay aboard the Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza, under Spanish control.

This expedition was part of a Spanish trade route between Acapulco and Manila. When the Spaniards attempted to take over Chumash land, they were attacked.

“It depends on how you and your ancestors have been impacted right, and so I think all of those perspectives deserve a voice,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman named the exhibit “See and Missed” to reference the Filipinos forgotten in this story. The title is a play on words – alluding to the ocean and air but spelled out to show how people have both seen and missed the Filipino-American community throughout generations.

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Members of the SLO Museum of Art standing in the middle of Hoffman's exhibit

The exhibit room is full of painted clouds, with swirls of white painted across the floor and the walls. Images are hanging from the ceiling, as though they are floating.

“The landscape flows from the walls onto the floor and there’s a variety of textures and colors that bring different materials together to kind of make up these fragments of space,” said Hoffman.

In the middle of the room is a bench with cloth hovering over. This is Hoffman's representation of a balangay – a boat that was traditionally used as a trading ship throughout the Philippines.

One of Hoffman's materials is a piña cloth — a traditional luxury fiber made from the leaves of pineapple. “It usually requires a whole team of artisans to extract these fibers, to spin them, to weave them, and it’s considered not just traditional but also super precious in the context of just textiles in Filipino culture,” said Hoffman.

Each corner of Hoffman’s exhibit showcases an
upside down vinyl poster of farmland.

One corner is a farm on the Central Coast, and the other is a farm from the Philippines. These posters meet halfway, blending with paint to illustrate the similarities and the differences of each landscape.

Between each image of the upside down farms are small, suspending landscapes. Hoffman says they invite the viewer into a more intimate space to notice the textures throughout the exhibit. Those include the piña cloth, nurses gowns, and plastic tablecloths which all have a deep significance to the Filipino community.

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Gabriela Fernandez
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A corner of Hoffman's exhibit blending with paint on the wall.

“It's layered. There's blood on this land, you know? And I think that’s the conversation, and first and foremost just the acknowledgement of that history is an essential part of healing and there's a lot of work to be done,” said Hoffman.

Ryan Buyco, an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal Poly SLO, said Hoffman's artwork captures that forgotten side of the story. "You come into this room and you see flipped images, and you see things being fragmented speaks to the experience that Filipinos have had in this country.”

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Members of the SLO Museum of Art observing Hoffman's exhibit

Buyco spoke at a panel discussion of Hoffman’s immersive installation. He began by reading a land acknowledgment to the Chumash to highlight their side of the story as well.

“I would like to acknowledge the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe of San Luis Obispo County and region who have a documented presence in this area for over 10 thousand years. The tiłhini people have stewarded their ancestral homelands which include all of the cities, communities, federal and state open spaces within San Luis Obispo County and region."

"These homelands extend west beyond the ocean shoreline, south to the Santa Maria River, east into the Cariso plains toward Kern County, and north to Ragged Point in an unbroken chain of lineage, kinship, and culture."

Lydia Heberling, another Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal Poly SLO, described Hoffman’s exhibit as a method of unpacking the colonization across the Pacific.

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Hoffman's sculpture standing outside of the SLO Museum of Art

“She’s taking images, and romanticized stereotypes, and flipping them on their heads, and inviting the viewers who walk in here to make sense of that,” said Heberling.

The exhibit has been in the works for four years, according to Emma Saperstein, the Chief Curator at the SLO Museum of Art. Saperstein told KCBX that she appreciates organic connections with artists from other parts of the country, and helping them immerse themselves in the San Luis Obispo area.

When Saperstein met Hoffman years ago, she immediately admired her ability to tell stories through her art.

“We do see one of our roles being acknowledging histories that aren’t discussed and being a space to hold, to hold conversations that are nuanced and complicated — and I think that’s sort of in many ways the point of art,” said Saperstein.

"See and Missed" will be open to the public until August 21. There’s also a new public art installation created by Hoffman on the lawn outside SLOMA, showing shadows of historic photos of Filipinos in California.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Shanbrom Family Foundation.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She studied political science at Sac State, interned at CapRadio and then worked as an associate podcast producer at CapRadio working on the TahoeLand podcast.
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