Manobo : Images Of Heritage

 

Manobo: Images of Heritage

 

According to ethnographer J. Elkins, “The Manobo belongs to the original stock of proto-Philippine or proto-Austronesian people who came from South China thousands of years ago. He later coined the term Manobo to designate the stock of original, non-negritoid people of Mindanao. They mostly inhabit the hinterlands specifically on the boundaries of Agusan, Bukidnon, Cotabato, Davao, and Misamis Oriental.

 

          Traditional fabric for clothes was abaca or hemp, weaved by the ikat process, but is now cotton cloth obtained through trade. Dyes were acquired from plants and trees. Ginuwatan are inwoven with representational designs such as flowers. If cotton trade cloth is bought, big floral designs are preferred. Typical colors are red, black, yellow, green, blue and white.”

 

          Currently on view at the Galerie Anna is Jun Impas’s homage to the Lumad of Mindanao. The word means indigenous or native. For this exhibition, the artist has distinctly focus on the culture, traditions, and rituals of the Manobo.

 

This exhibition, however, is imbued by turns with deeper poignancy and with greater significance brought about by two contrasting incidences of present times. The first is the crisis caused by the recent  events which involved the killings of the Lumad. Suffice it to quote a Lumad spokesman: “It is a form of ethnocide but it is worse because there are specific characteristics of impunity and killings targeting the Lumad. What is alarming is that it is happening all over Mindanao…The military said they were rebels, but the New Peoples’ Army denied the claim, saying the victims were civilians.”

 

The second, as we all know since the nation is still caught up in the wake of the turbulent and acrimonious election, is the triumphant victory of having the first Mindanaoan head of state: President Rodrigo Duterte. And of course the question that immediately arise is: how will he solve the Lumad killings?

 

Only upon the acknowledgment of these two separate events can we begin to celebrate the recent works of Cebuano artist, Jun Impas. Titled “Manobo: Images of Heritage,” the show is an outright jubilation of the culture of the Manobo, and understandably from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, the artist marveled at the pageantry of ceremony and the deeply glowing hues of their fabric and clothing. Indeed, Impas allowed pride of place for a depiction of bands of these exotically woven fabric to enliven and strengthen the design and composition, visual flavor and emotional temper of his artworks. Moreover, when Impas lays out the bolts of Manobo fabric into coiling drapery, the viewer senses the artist has been truly swept by the beauty of the material.

Travelling down to Davao to participate in the Manobo festival, with his trusty camera and an avid spirit, Impas saw for himself the dazzling annual event of music and dance. This act of immersion and participation, imbibing the entire local color and feeling the pulse of the Manobo people, is what drives Impas to visually record the event with a documentary truth as well as a painterly passion. We need only recall that Impas  journeyed all over the archipelago, from North to South, to attend the various fiestas in order to produce that epic exhibition of Philippine fiestas, presented by Galerie Anna at the SM Art Center, with no less a distinguished guest than the Secretary of Tourism Ramon Jimenez  in attendance. It was a kind of herculean task Impas had imposed on himself, even as he was aware of the time pressure, the physical and the financial demands this challenge would claim from him. Typically, Jun Impas redeemed himself.

 

In these recent artworks, what is touching is the sight of generations of Manobo: the children and the elderly, all caught up in the activities of the festival. The old Manobo playing the percussive instruments and the infant being held aloft by his mother are both vivid images of history and heritage, the Manobo, aborning and unfurling.

And in the midst of it is the unseen artist Jun Impas, weaving himself in and out of the crowd, as though he were himself being woven into the fabric of the lives of the Manobo.

                                                          -Cid Reyes

 

 

 

Still Life

Cesar Arro:

A RAGE TO PAINT

By Cid Reyes

 

          So obvious is the fact that no one seems to bother even saying it: an artist, in whatever field, must be viscerally, even obsessively, connected to his material, so involved with it as to constitute a passion, an obsession to draw from this substance the very spirit of his art. To wit: a writer must be in love with the use of words to communicate a narrative or ideas. A musician, using the instrument of his choice, must first take delight in sound, per se, before he can even string the notes in any melodic or harmonious sequence. A filmmaker or director must be driven by his sheer enthusiasm for the illusion of moving images. Just the touch of raw materials such as stone, marble, bronze, wood, metal, or glass, is enough to engender in a sculptor an intense desire to shape it, to release, as Michelangelo said and did, the figure trapped within it.  And for an artist, a painter….

          By his own admission, Cezar Arro, who is now holding his fifth solo show, “Still Lifes” at Galerie Anna, is addicted (his own word!) to paint. The fleshiness and glow of oils, the plasticity and versatility of acrylics, the delicacy and transparency of watercolor….all these mediums work their own possession, of an artist’s soul, invigorating and driving his spirit to create visual expressions until, as Arro himself describes his own experience, finally drained.

          The title of the show – “Still Lifes” –might puzzle the viewer. Was it intentional on the artist’s part? As we all know, a still life is a painting of inanimate objects, such as fruit, flowers, etc., often arranged on a table.  A species of still life was called the vanitas, which presents an assembly of objects that suggest the passage of time, such as clocks, hourglasses, melting candles, withering flowers, and more symbolically, butterflies, which, for all their graceful and entrancing beauty and fragility, do not live for long. All these images bespeak of a singular truth: the transcience of life, the mortality of man.

Did Cezar Arro imply this crucial message in his “Still Lifes”? For what the artist has presented is a heavy downpour, a cascading bath of watery pigments, descending, splashing, on a naked male figure, awash in all the blending polychromatic pigments. Do these works speak for the artist himself?  For indeed  he is dramatically portrayed with a palette of colors and a paintbrush gripped by his hand? That a work is titled “Exploring the New World of Arro” should suffice to answer the question.

Endowing his pigments with the magical power of transformation, Arro achieves a complete identification between the vocation of an artist and his medium. Through changing physical poses, he achieves various dimensions of existential struggle and turmoil, and thus Arro has entered into a very personal region, conveying the message that while an artist is inspired by the act of creation, his commitment to his art is also paved along the way with incalculable challenges. Realistically speaking, we can point to the example of Van Gogh, an inspiring precedent, who endured and struggled through extreme and maddening difficulties, and who was said to have sold only one painting in his lifetime! Alas, we, too, have been witness to a number of talented young artists, who, after years of commercial failures, finally just surrendered to life’s “injustice” and gave up painting completely.

And thus, we are confronted the question: Is an artist’s life an “unstill life”?

There are two striking works in the show: one is titled “Landscape,” which cleverly depicts the artist literally painting himself into a framed canvas, an utter consummation of his being into his art. The other, with a playfully worded title “Self pour trait of Frida Kahlo,” is a portrayal of the tragic Mexican artist, emerging from a dazzling downpour of paint, her hand wielding  the brush that has caused her into existence. Veritably, this work is a “tour de force,” a triumph of visual autobiography.

 And so, with these two works, Cezar Arro, still raging to paint, has justified his own unique concept of “still life.”

                                      *****

         

An Inevitable

MALYN BONAYOG: Inevitable Presences

 

            “Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever not really, people belong to them.” That’s how homeowner Gladys Taber reminisced about her family’s old house. But whether the old house is a family property, or an old house that one remembers from one’s past, that old crumbling abode sends out emotional resonances that affect us, summoning unbidden feelings and thoughts about the past, and by implication, about the present and the future. Thus it is for artist Malyn Bonayog, whose exhibition of works devoted to old habitation is on view at the Galerie Anna.

An integral part of the artist’s memory is of her grandmother, her lola, whose narrations of the lives of people who once lived in old houses in their hometown Gapan, in Nueva Ecija, that have taken  grip on a child’s imagination. And the bittersweet, ironic aspect of the memory is that Malyn’s grandmother will, soon enough, leave her for the afterlife, thus in effect, finally joining the others who have gone ahead of her. Such memories have galvanized the artist into giving visual life to those precious memories, and if the cruel inroads of relentless urbanization have caused those old houses to disappear, then the artworks that have provoked them into existence might as well bring them back to life again.

While other artists have also been fascinated by these old structures, what differentiates Malyn’s renditions are the insights that emerge from her contemplations. She has gone beyond the rudimentary need for architectural documentation, surely a worthy cause in itself, but her painting activity is also her emotional and personal projection into her own past, her own vanished childhood, and as it was with her grandmother’ demise, the artist’s own future departure from this world. Malyn’s artworks bind her into a space and time that is one mysterious continuum, where past, present and future is a transfiguration, and not a redundancy, of one and the other. Where each one intersects the other, is where the artist is most present.

But expect no nostalgic blues in Malyn’s visions of these old houses. It is true: what another homeowner, Grace King, remarked of her own experience – “We wander through old streets, and pause before the age-stricken houses, and strange to say, the magic past lights them up.” For Malyn, lighting up the past is better contrasted and enhanced by the sensibilities of the present, cast within the interior space created by the visual utilities at the service of the artist, such graphic and compositional devices as stripes and bands and zigzags, high tonal contrast and printing technology. They invest currents of motion and activity upon the unnerving stillness of these provincial streets and landscapes, as witness those jangly electric wires hanging awry, like rude behavior in the presence of these stoic and dignified old houses.

Inevitable is the past being swept by the present, at the very moment the future thrusts itself into our existence.

JOSUE MANGROBANG, JR.: Inevitable Secrets

 

                The Hungarian artist named Christo, together with his wife Jeanne-Claude, made a big splash in the art world in the Seventies, with a single daring act: wrapping. With that one gesture – wrapping the most ordinary, commonplace and familiar objects, such as a telephone, a pedestal, an armchair, magazines, champagnes bottles – with fabric or polyethylene, they invested these workaday objects that we all simply ignore, with mystery and intrigue, drama and suspense, cloaking them in the viewer’s mind, with qualities and attributes that they otherwise would not have provoked into existence. Christo and Jeanne-Claude went one step beyond Marcel Duchamp, who introduced the concept of the “ready-made.” With one magisterial decision, Duchamp had chosen functional, utilitarian objects such as a bottle rack, a urinal, a shovel, a window pane, and proclaimed them to be art.

                Closer to home, Filipino artist Josue Mangrobang, in his own revelatory way, introduces the concept, not of wrapping, but of its reversal: unwrapping. The medium, however, is not sculptural, but in the two-dimensional, a visual image on canvas. The material which he uses illustratively is not fabric or polyethylene, but paper. To be sure, there are significations inherent in Mangrobang’s choice of material. But first, what are the implications of the gesture of unwrapping? Indeed, one must precede from a wrapped state, a hidden and concealed situation, suggestive of secrecy and denial of transparency. The intent is to abolish the truth of a certain reality, to disconnect the sight from the object of its search, to mystify what has been so ostentatiously displayed. Unwrapping has been so associated with Mangrobang since he participated in prestigious national art competitions and gaining the attention of critics and the jury. Moreover, the presence of children in his works, wrapped then in ruled paper pad, has taken on the specter of allegory, instruments of messages that may be at first be too lofty for their young, innocent minds, though, indeed, these children are tragically and ironically the first victims.

                Thus, in this show, we witness a series of works titled “Children Petition To Global Warming.” The poignancy and sorrow that resonate from these images cannot be overestimated. Their past, present and future are inextricably subsumed by a disaster of global proportion, when in fact the fate of humanity teeters on the balance, and when the thought of human extinction is not just a possibility but a looming probability. Using paper as their medium and material of communication, a material that can be literally soaked into extinction, these children, half-comprehending the gravity of the situation, are petitioning for their lives and for the necessity of world leaders to save the planet with extreme urgency. A powerful message has already been sent through the world’s television screens: Nature does not need people. People need nature.

Likening himself to a writer, unveiling the truth about our present reality, Mangrobang must perforce convey his message in the most direct and vital manner, delivering a warning through a material that literally and symbolically stand for a ravaged world. He has started to use panels of old wood, reminders of nature that has been destroyed by man. Thus, these pieces of wood have become sacrosanct relics that must bear the burden of uncovered secrets, ultimately unwrapping and unveiling the reality that man is truly the murderous assassin of his own world. We may be seeing the last of the paper that is Mangrobang’s symbol, frail issue from the tree that has been brutally felled.

 

Abstraction: Essence of the Real

                Abstract art is defined as “an art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and texture.” It was the invention of photography in the 19th century which had brought reality to its highest and truest state of verisimilitude. Thus, in the early years of the 20th century, artists from various nationalities arrived, independently of each other, at the notion of an art of complete abstraction. Among these are the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, the Dutchman Piet Mondrian, the Frenchman Robert Delaunay, and still another Russian, Kazimir Malevich, who, with his so-called “Suprematist compositions”  liberated art “from the useless weight of the object,” proclaiming the “supremacy of pure feeling and perception.” Interior or spiritual reality is what counts most. As Kandinsky declared: “The harmony of color and form is solely based upon the principles of the proper contact with the human soul.”

                Of course, in other more ancient cultures, abstraction has existed, as seen in Chinese and Muslim calligraphy, where the depiction of the human form, is forbidden. Despite not understanding the meaning of their calligraphy, we can still enjoy the beauty and elegance of their lines and forms.

                In Philippine art, the pioneering abstractionists emerged in the 1950s from the so-called Neo-Realists, namely Hernando Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, Romeo Tabuena, Victor Oteyza, and Ramon Estella. In their search for an alternative reality, away from the defined and constricted world of Fernando Amorsolo, they searched instead for meaningful or significant forms, which led to the fragmentation of familiar and traditional representational forms. In consequence, their works manifested partial or complete abstraction. After them came another generation of abstractionists, in the persons of Arturo Luz, Jose Joya, Constancio Bernardo, Nena Saguil, Rosario Bitanga, Lee Aguinaldo, and J. Elizalde-Navarro.

                All these pioneering exemplars of Philippine abstraction have been inspirational to the succeeding waves of younger generations active in the vibrant art scene of today. In presenting “Abstraction: Essence of the Real,” Galerie Anna celebrates the visionary power of abstraction – of the emotive and aesthetic values of form and line, light and color, space and textural, relationships - to explore other dimensions of reality, beyond what the physical eye can see.

The Devil is in the Detail

MICHELLE HOLLANES LUA: The Devil is in the Detail

By Cid Reyes 

The Feminist art movement has never seemed more strident and aggressive in recent years for a 

simple reason that the issues that it raises have never been resolved, paid attention to, or wrought the 

changes  that it was meant to effect. The decibels of protest have risen more vociferously and, more 

significantly, in parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where women have never been treated as 

equals of men. This world-wide phenomenon, which has brought to the fore the erstwhile controversial 

subjects of violence against women, domestic life as a form of modern day slavery, and respect of the 

female body away from the male gaze, is regarded as “the most influential,  international movement of 

any during the postwar period.” 

To be sure, we have seen exhibitions of feminist art hereabouts, instigated and inspired by the 

likes, for instance, of Julie Lluch, Agnes Arellano, and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, and Pacita Abad, first rate 

artists all, and yes, whose works equal those  of men. 

Currently on view at Galerie Anna are the works of Michelle Hollanes Lua in a show titled “The 

Devil is in the Detail.” It is, of course, a twist of the familiar statement “God is in the details”, whose 

origin is unknown but was once attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, more famous 

for his “God is dead.” Lua has described herself as a “scavenger artist,” indeed a graphic word that 

brings to mind the materials used by the movement “Arte Povera,” the Italian phrase for “Poor Art” or 

art that makes use of discarded and rejected materials, stuff from the refuse heaps, relics of poverty. 

Lua’s materials, however, have been drawn from a life that devolves from the world of vanity and 

superficial perfection, the obsessive pursuit of youth and beauty, an absorption with style and fashion, 

on which the American critic Arthur Danto once made a judgment, thus: For conservatives, who idealize 

good breeding in all things (code word, quality), fashion represents the ungrounded vulgar presumption 

of the arriviste.” In her Artist’s Statement, Lua brings up such designer labels as :ouis Vuitton, Chanel, 

Versace Gucci, Esquire, and Zara. Fashion is an aesthetic world unto itself. When Lua shares that through 

time she has collected “fancy diamonds from hundreds of broken shoes, belts, bags,” one thinks of a 

compulsiveness that carries more significance than meets the eye. 

But her other materials such as aluminum, brass and stones are quite the accepted objects in 

traditional assemblage. It is the subject, however, of aesthetic surgery that has been invested with a 

gruesome starknesss in the work ‘Retokada.” The vernacular title suggests all the physical pain, despite 

anesthesia, that a woman is willing to undergo in order to maintain or force her body to conform to 

what is regarded as the accepted standard of beauty. Indeed, vanity is itself a form of self-flagellation. 

Lua’s work has a brutish, startling beauty, a three-dimensional cross between an anatomy book and a 

mad scientist’s nightmare, where bone, flesh, sinew and blood turn into the grisly car wreck deserted in 

a roadside accident. Here the devil of vanity has interwoven itself between the bleeding wounds and 

hanging sutures. For this particular viewer, this work has the power and shock one felt when first seeing 

the iconic work of Cajipe-Endaya’s “The Wife is a DH”, which is an assemblage of a Filipina whose body 

was a suitcase with a leg stepping on a coconut husk. Our very homes in fact host modern day slavery. 

The work “The Four Ages of Women” is an overwrought horizontal frieze, where the visages of 

women, each alone unto herself, emerge as if from a fourth-dimensional wall, festooned with all 

manner of dripping frills and decorative shreds, shrouded with stark, unmitigated grayness, a chromatic 

amniotic fluid from which our own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters swim into life determined by 

biological fate. The artist speaks through her work, confronting her own pain. 

In Michelle Hollanes Lua’s feminist art, we find access into the innermost psychic passages of 

self-love. From birth to death, women have been incessantly bullied by societal expectations. Ah, frailty, 

truly thy name is Woman.

Residual Felicity

Jericho Valjusto Vamenta: Residual Felicity

 

One is fortunate to have seen the first two solo exhibitions of Jericho Valjusto Vamenta, and the 

experience allows one, as an observer, to track down the ways the artist engages his mind, sensibility 

and techniques, according to the impelling needs of his chosen themes. There was a show where his 

images focused on a Falling Man, which personified, obviously enough, man’s fall from grace. Or  

wealth. Or, most seductively, power. Thus falling, it looked as if the figure were floating in space, 

delivered from the laws of gravity, floating in space, in an existential vacuum. 

One remembers, more affectingly, his images of women, for Vamenta has a marvelous way of 

depicting women who seem otherworldly, and whose presence emerges in his imagination not in the 

way we see them in actual reality, but in the stirring way that conflates romanticism and surrealism. 

Ordinary scenes, with table still lifes, were presided over by these graces, elegant hostesses with their 

spectral apparitions, heightening our suspicion that these figures were no more flesh and blood than the 

cold, glacial vessels bearing wine, fruit and bread. Even in prosaic activities, like bicycling or waiting by 

the window, his women look as if they were in an unremitting state of combustion, ready to vanish, 

evaporate in an instant. 

On view at the Galerie Anna is Vamenta’s third solo show, titled “Residual Felicity,” an 

unexpected conflation of terms whose meanings remain teetering by turns at the edge of 

incomprehension and illumination. In his “Artist’s Statement,” Vamenta distinctly makes mention of 

Appropriation, which is “the taking over, into a work of art, of a real object, or even an existing work of 

art.” Indeed, appropriation has proved itself to be controversial approach to artmaking, dredging as it 

does issues of originality and ownership of visual ideas. To be sure, such public and universal images as 

the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse, are so widely known, that barring copyright protection, the matter of 

plagiarism is simply out of the question. Such images have become public property and part and parcel 

of popular culture and consciousness. 

By its very title alone, Vamenta’s “Madonna on the Rocks” is a homage to Da Vinci’s “Virgin of 

the Rocks.” The intentional, or perhaps unwitting shift of prepositions, engenders a different reading of 

Vamenta’s “take” on the Renaissance painting. “On the rocks,” is of course a phrase known to every 

scotch drinker. Is Vamenta’s Madonna imbibing the wrong kind of spirit? The tantalizing thought is 

irreverently irresistible. Furthermore, there seems nothing reverential in the way this Madonna has 

been depicted, with her strangely kicking up her heels, her long black tresses whipped up by the winds. 

Another work appropriated from an Old Master painting is titled “Madonna with Cat.” Why has 

the feline creature replaced the Divine Infant in the Madonna’s affection? One then realizes that in the 

surprising discontinuities between the original source and the appropriated result are to be found the 

residuals of meanings, (residual being an almost formal word for left-over), that sparkle through the 

artist’s sly and insidious manipulation of original images. Felicity, on the other, connotes joy, bliss, 

contentment, happiness. 

 Other works in the show, such as “Sleeptalk” and “Glare, Glaze, and Glasses” do not easily 

disclose their original sources. It is more likely that Vamenta has purposely murked up their derivation, 

drawn them from personal and intimate experiences, accessed only through his own subconscious and 

memories. The two works make unnerving and candid references to intoxication, inebriation, the 

incessant consumption of alcohol. In “Sleeptalk,” a drunken man lies sprawled on a bench of a nipa 

cottage by the beach, a rudely awakening sight, while the alliteratively titled work is viewed from a 

prismatically shifting facets of planes, approximating the effect of alcoholic haze upon the vision. 

An oddly mystifying suite of works, in pen-and-ink on canvas, deploys a mannequin, disrobed 

and with breasts bared, possibly used as metaphor for Woman, which then invokes the disquieting 

manner men have treated the so-called “weaker sex.” On the head of this mannequin, the artist has 

unceremoniously dumped a heavy load of laundry wash. 

Jericho Valjusto Vamenta’s “Residual Felicity” generates questions that are left-over, because 

unanswered, from man’s prejudices and dereliction.