Confidently Beautiful, with a heart

2017

In the main question round of the 2015 Miss Universe competition, the American host Steve Harvey posed to the contestant from the Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach this question: ‘Earlier this year there was a controversy in the Philippines about the United States reopening a military base in your country. Do you think the United States should have a military presence in your country?’

She responded, breathlessly, ‘I think that the US and the Philippines has always had a good relationship with each other. We were colonised by the Americans and we have their culture in our traditions even up to this day and I think that we’re very welcoming with the Americans and I don’t see any problem with that at all.’ Later, when asked to stake her claim to the crown, Wurtzbach declared, 'I want to show the world — the universe, rather — that I am confidently beautiful, with a heart': an eloquent and perhaps strategic appropriation of the Miss Universe Organisation’s motto, 'Confidently Beautiful’.

The final moments of the pageant became a globally televised spectacle, live from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. After announcing before a crowded auditorium that Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez was the winner, Steve Harvey reemerged, chastened, to confess a mistake: he had misread the results, and Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was Miss Universe 2015. Dethroned, de-crowned, and still clutching the largest bouquet on the stage, Gutiérrez wept amongst a crowd of consolers.

The Miss Universe Pageant functions here as a microcosm of international politics and relations, a cipher for addressing issues arising from the long-standing colonial relationship between the United States and the Philippines. A Trump co-owned institution from 1996 – 2015, the pageant’s resonance is particularly ominous in the current context. Wurtzbach’s enthusiastic opinion on the continued American military presence in the Philippines reveals the competition as a platform for Western democracy, as well as an instrument of American doctrine and diplomacy.

Commissioned by Mosman Art Gallery for the Bayanihan Philippine Art Project, Confidently beautiful, with a heart, 2017, distills and reframes these events.