PEARLS is the third and final iteration of a larger piece of work entitled “Cosmological Gangbang,” which seeks to create new forms of rituals for queer bodies and the ecologies they inhabit. With PEARLS, Brussels-based Filipino multi-media artist Joshua Serafin, alongside their collaborators in the Philippines Lukresia Quismundo and Bunny Cadag , embodies through live performance a contemporary ritual inspired by the non-normative genders celebrated in the Philippine archipelago prior to empire. In dance, song, and theatre, Serafin, Quismundo, and Cadag shed the gender binary they have inherited from colonial culture, gesturing toward their future selves to rediscover an ancestral body promised by the gender-diverse.
The performance takes as a starting point for its various movements a genealogy of indigenous gender identities in the Philippines lived and expressed as fluid and resistant to binary representation. This gender nonconformity is grounded in the divine and was embodied by high priestesses fulfilling themselves in various incarnations of the feminine and passed on through genres of oral wisdom. As tellers of these tales in the present, the performers hope to translate their knowledge of local queer spirituality through a global idiom that would inspire conversations among peers and co-conspirators beyond their homeland.
PEARLS dreams to rewrite history and speculate a possible future, by conjuring reveries where the body transforms into the divine—mortals become gods and goddesses, merge with the cosmos, and create nature out of nonbinary form. As a decolonial fantasy, the work seeks to imagine queer and trans bodies of color from the global south through the particular predicaments and aspirations proposed by Filipino experience.
The title PEARLS references “Perla de Oriente,” (Pearl of the Orient) the sobriquet attributed to the Philippines by Spanish missionary Juan José Delgado in Historia de Filipinas (1751) and “Perla del Mar de Oriente,” (Pearl of the Orient Sea) which opens the second line of Filipino national hero José Rizal’s valedictory poem Último Adiós (1896). In this sense, a pearl stands in for the motherland by turns imagined as colony and nation, a tropical paradise that inspired priests and patriots in fulfilling acts of religion as well as revolution.
Ultimately, PEARLS is a ritual of healing. As performers, Joshua, Lukresia, and Bunny acknowledge the pain they share as queer and trans people with brown bodies, confessing stories of trauma they wish to transform into scenes of beauty, just like when nacre covers a foreign particle that finds its way into an oyster, forming a pearl in the depths of the ocean that would defy all manner of tempest and perhaps even elude the eyes of greed.