Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?
Curated by Haema Sivanesan
Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity
3 March – 30 July 2023

Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser’s multi-media and virtual reality exhibition centres on an omniscient artificial intelligence named Piña, a fictitious digital repository that has gained consciousness through machine learning. Piña has acquired knowledge through extensive data uploads from Ecuadorian and Filipino knowledge-keepers. Through Piña, viewers meet real-world healers and activists including members of the Ciber Amazonas, a community of Indigenous organizers comprising journalists, writers and broadcasters who use radio and other forms of technology to build community and circulate cultural information. We also meet Alba Pavón, an Afro-Ecuadorian community leader who shares how a history of Black enslavement and displacement has shaped her knowledge of plant medicine. And Janet Dolera, a Filipino babaylan or spirit-medium who practices a form of massage called hilot, alongside other healing techniques. The spiritual and land-based knowledges of these women are stored, safe-guarded and transmitted for future generations through Piña.

Piña derives its name from the Spanish word for pineapple, introduced to the Philippines from South America by Spanish colonists. In the Philippines, piña is a fibre produced from the leaves of the pineapple plant and used to weave very fine, lustrous cloth known as nipis. A series of digital drawings included in the exhibition are based on traditional Filipino and Ecuadorian weavings and are printed on piña cloth. These drawings also reference neural network patterns used in machine-learning and appear in the film as the image of the knowledge systems held within the AI repository.

Ultimately, Piña is an allegory for the possibility of colonial resistance. It portends the capacity to re-narrate the violence of Spanish colonialism and to resist against ongoing narratives of cultural erasure. In this way, Piña is the sign of a hopeful de-colonial future. It is the sign of a benevolent and enduring matrilineal power.