A Curious Betrothal

Kick-ass Filipinas become Mail Order Brides

There can't be too many arts collectives whose names and raisons d'être were inspired by a Frasier episode. But that's just what Eliza Barrios, Reanne Estrada, and Jenifer Wofford were watching when a character referred to women from the Philippines as mail-order brides. The three Filipinas were stung. The sitcom was implying that Filipinas are downtrodden damsels-in-distress, but Barrios, Estrada, and Wofford considered themselves (as Estrada puts it) "kick-ass." The trio established Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. to create vivid, campy photographs, sculptures, film, video, and what Barrios calls "performative acts," improv theater bits riffing on aspects of Filipino-American life.

Case in point: the Brides' 1998 poster series, displayed by the San Francisco Arts Commission's Art in Transit Program. The "Home Is Where the Heart Is ..." collection pictured the Brides in scenes of Filipino-American domesticity, with a question in the foreground illustrated by a background photo. Why Don't You Settle Down? depicts a young woman being scolded by her parents; Have You Eaten? shows the Brides at a dinner table groaning with lumpia and adobo.

"Those are the kinds of questions Filipinas hear a lot," says Barrios. "Last time I was in the Philippines, the very first question they asked you when you walked in was, 'Have you eaten?'"

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. vamping 
at the 
Madonna Inn.
Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. vamping at the Madonna Inn.

The group's latest exhibition, "Honeymoon Suite Nothings," finds the Brides taking on femininity and romance at San Luis Obispo's over-the-top Madonna Inn, the honeymoon hotel with 108 themed rooms. The large-format digital prints are striking -- the Brides' psychedelic Filipina drag contrasts nicely with the Inn's barmy furnishings. But the best reasons to see the show are the continuous-loop screenings of the M.O.B.'s goofy video work, including Holiday, one of several faux-karaoke videos featuring the Brides as members of rival West Side Story-ish gangs. Like the artists themselves, the show is giggly, wacky -- and ultimately thought-provoking.

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