Revolutionary Healing in Public

Reimagining Colonial Wounds in Public Monuments

photo by Nicolas Andrews

Lani Asunción shares their reflections from their Public Art for Spatial Justice Project from 2021, Revolutionary AYAT (Revolutionary LOVE). This project was a means of not only interrupting the false narrative and violent revision of the Philippine-American war as memorialized by the Hiker Kitson statue in Arsenal Square in Cambridge, but also making way for truth and healing to emerge in public in its place. Lani also paired the embodied performance with an augmented reality component to invoke just imagery that could be memorialized in its place—imagery that uplifts Filipinx diasporic cultural presence that survived colonization. The following is a deeper dive into Lani’s process and practice of this project after a year of distance to reflect.

Origins of Revolutionary AYAT (Revolutionary LOVE)

Revolutionary AYAT is a multimedia project of radical revolutionary intervention, deep care, and recognition of cultural belonging of Filipinx-American peoples bringing visibility to overshadowed and underwritten cultural histories. Using the media of augmented reality (AR), performance, and community public art this project questions established narratives and instead centers and enacts an alternative ethics of care, healing, and solidarity. Revolutionary AYAT first came about when I was taking a walk in Cambridge, and I came upon the Hiker Monument. It really caught me off guard at first because I wasn't aware of this monument in that location. It was really disturbing because it was like seeing a physical embodiment of the colonial narrative—and the oppressive systems—which gave me the feeling of not having the power to exist outside of some of the images and tropes depicted on the monument.

The word ayat is the Ilocano word for love and guided the multimedia public art project and performance series. The Hiker (Kitson) monument, located in Arsenal Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was created by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson and is one of 13 monuments throughout Massachusetts, out of 50  reproduced across the United States. It was erected to commemorate the Spanish American War or more specifically the Philippine-American War and occupation of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, in addition to mentioning the China Relief Expedition also known as the Boxer Rebellion.

Focused initially on the specific site of The Hiker in Arsenal Square in Cambridge, this project eventually will expand to include each of the replicated statues throughout Massachusetts and the United States.

This project uplifts the protection of Filipinx, non-binary, gender expansive and womxn identified BIPOC bodies who are most vulnerable against white supremacy, race hate crimes, and sexual assault. This project is a multimedia collaborative community art intervention which aims to contest public narratives of war, colonialism, race, and migration. It presents a counter narrative in performance: movement and sound, and community training for social justice.

Taking Up Space During the Pandemic

An animated, life-like rendering of a star-like symbol that repeats three times around a monument of a white man.
courtesy of the artist

The ensuing Philippine-American War (1898-1902) lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease. Among these narratives of war, the project also aims to uplift the contributions and sacrifices of Filipino frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The parol imagery came into the work because it started in December of 2021 and is a symbol of lighted hope in the darkness of oppression and loss, and became the leading symbol of the project representing love and healing throughout the work.

For this project I partnered with Boston based augmented reality (AR) software company Hoverlay through their Creators and Ambassadors Program (CAP). I worked with artists Christian Cahil and Yuekai Miao on the 3D AYAT logo design and renderings. There were some setbacks with augmented reality (AR) design compatibility with the Hoverlay AR Software App, so I worked with graphic artists Christian and Yuekai to get the piece to properly interact with the monument when viewed with the AR app on location.


The first performance was done in collaboration with Jamie Yancovitz - founder and educator of Survival Arts, and we were joined by Filipinx artist Cai Diluvioin in a ritual performance ceremony held on Memorial Day 2022 at The Hiker (Kitson) monument.
Survival Arts Academy was established by Jamie Yancovitz in Bacolod City, Philippines and online across the globe to protect womxn and girls against all forms of violence.

Yancovitz works to build skills in situational awareness, self-protection against violence, and understanding the historical connections between liberation struggles across the globe, from the Philippines to Hawaii to Puerto Rico to Cuba, to the Indigenous and Black Liberation movements. The pedagogy and praxis of Survival Arts Academy is rooted in a vision where mothers are honored as creators, children are empowered to be leaders of the future, and all members of the family are trained to be warriors. Training includes tactical movement, breath, and energy work, while uncovering the stories of warriors and matriarchies of the past. Survival Arts works to create space for intergenerational healing, historical truth-telling, and community education to protect against violence in many forms.

Three folks stand in front of a monument of a white man. These folks hold arches over their heads and are wrapped in ribbons. One of the three wears the white shroud.
photo by Nicolas Andrews

Survival Arts Training is for Self-Protection & community circle for pinay / pilipina / Filipinx, non-binary, gender expansive and woman-identified BIPOC. Survival Arts kali training is for the community to protect mind, body, and spirit against violence.

It was important to be in community with other Filipinx artists during this project to come together to contend with such oppressive and painfully heavy histories. Share ways to support and uplift each other through both ritual performance and group healing circles. The expansion of this project will be in collaboration with Puerto Rican and Cuban artists to continue the conversations addressed on the monument by working in solidarity and give space for visibility to their cultural histories and lived experiences.

What Public Art Can Do

I learned that public art can be facilitated to face terrifying histories of violence and genocide and can be used to question established narratives and instead center and enact an alternative ethics of care, healing, and solidarity. Through coming together with fellow Filipinx artists and educators in community circles and performance rituals it is possible to find common collective consciousness to do this cultural and social justice work. It has the power to not only heal intergenerational pain and loss but enable those who engage with the work to have a understanding of the current condition of the Filipinx diaspora.

This project changed the way I approach public monuments as a passive engagement and now I know that it is possible to directly face these structures by embodying counter narratives and using technology to interface and engage with the public in ways that divert any gatekeeping or limitations to public access.


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