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After Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho

The usual / drama of chiaroscuro, / how it begins / in medias res for the sake / of the viewer.

By Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr.

sight The Filipino painter Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s 1884 painting, Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho (Christian Virgins Exposed to the Rabble) is a disquieting study of the male gaze. In his ekphrastic poem, Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr. turns this gaze back on itself, to ask if it is the see-er or the seen who is truly exposed.

 

 

 

After Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho

I am in a cathedral
of light—no, I meant half
shadow, half light. The usual
drama of chiaroscuro,
how it begins
in medias res for the sake
of the viewer. I am nude
and your gaze is naked
as need, almost an affliction.
If I avert my eyes, is it out
of being drawn
forsaken, the spoil
and spoilage of an empire
about to be undone? I am subjected
as virgin, as soon
to be ruin, each hand yearning
to graze the tips of my breasts,
the fever in my skin.
My voice is walled
by other voices, clamorous
for attention. How blind they are not
to see the edge
I have become. I am a knife unsheathed.