Ongoing at Finale Art File Makati City
While Renato Habulan’s and Alfredo Esquillo’s works are steeped in religious imagery, they fuse with unerring aim aspects of faith and the inner world, that which we regard private; communal ties and the outer sphere, or that we consider public. The acts of withdrawing into one’s self and reaching out to a wider world are facilitated by embodiments of faith in their art. However, this is not belief viewed through a singular lens of understanding. It is belief bearing a berth of meanings adhering to identity and the predicaments of Philippine society. We can say that in their art, faith is transfigured into a manner of fidelity, of truth-searching, a powerful method to probe the conditions of our contemporary world.
At surface, it is easy to surmise their collaborations are overtly Catholic or are about organized religion, which they cast in great doubt. They began these chronicles of religious fervor in the late nineties. Sharing a fascination for millenarian movements yet marked by quite different backgrounds, Habulan and Esquillo continue what can be considered a pilgrimage: a journey through the meandering paths of faith, through the vehicle of art, in what we may well consider the matrix of Philippine history. Their joint exhibition at the National University of Singapore Museum in 2012 illustrated the coming together of two methods of elaboration, diverging and dissolving at specific junctures.
This was followed by other exhibitions showing Habulan grounding his depictions in multitudes of figures and Esquillo focusing on the individual vicissitudes of flesh. Both are highly skilled in realism and its latent attribute to convey narratives. Their imagery centered greatly on the goings-on in Quiapo especially during the day of devotion to the Black Nazarene patron and the person of Lauro, the prophet thought to be Christ by his followers. Their exhibitions involve a wide array of formats, ranging from painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance. Best captured in this sweep of forms is not just a story or figments of one, but the spirit of place vis-à-vis the aura of faith shaped by space and time. Hence, they conjure not only an arena of belief but also the inner landscape of faith. Through their art, we come to realize these two spheres are by turns conjoined in its striving for harmony, and divorced to illustrate discord. This fluctuating flow best conjures the sense of belief in our precarious world, where sliding between extremes may very well has become the norm.
We apprehend two moments of disclosure, or indeed revelation if one derives from these artist’s vocabularies, in these exhibitions. The first takes place in the sphere of the social, where struggles emanate. The artists intuit this tug-of-war keenly, and imbue their art with realizations from the ground, aided by their close observations of life unfurling, happening, or ‘taking place’. The second moment is candid revelation of the possibilities in art for critique, for deeper understanding, and grounded optimism. Yet it is exuberance forged by the sordid limits of reality: the kind they painstakingly capture and convey through art, and one they fervently scrutinize and infinitely learn from. Thus, their pilgrimage is one given to fissure and doubt, shaped by scrutiny and not by deluded homage, and where wholehearted belief lies in the latent powers of art.
Wayfarers through this dense forest, Habulan and Esquillo revive affect and passions through creative vision and gesture, clearing a path that leads to inner sanctum, where realizations are parlayed out to the world through action. There perhaps, is the site where indeed art manifests and ‘takes place’, a manner of revelation longed for in times of strife.