Month for Art

It was a busy two months of lectures and talks, conversations and dialogues, exhibition openings and site visits. Here are a few:

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Visiting what remained of art works for Field Notes at the Makiling Botanic Gardens, Los Banos Laguna
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After a talk at Nomina Nuda with colleagues from UP Los Banos and artists for the Field Notes project
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At Alfredo Esquillo’s ‘Continuing Spirit’ retrospective at Arete: written on several works in the past including ‘Piety and Place’ for an exhibition at the National University of Singapore Museum. I wrote ‘Pilgrim’s Gift’ for forthcoming catalogue.
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In conversation with artist Leo Abaya on his ‘Demograpi, atbp’ exhibition, curated by Patrick Flores at Tin-aw Art Gallery
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After our video shoot for LAWAS Public Art at the UP Diliman campus grounds, with co-curator Cecilia de la Paz, artists Lee Paje and Mark Justiniani. Our closing event will be first week December with a program conceptualised by Franchesca Casauay.

 

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Alfredo Esquillo, Jr. in Artissima 2013

Tin-aw Art Gallery proudly represents artist Alfredo Esquillo Jr. in Artissima 2013. His suite of works will be included in Present Future, a section showcasing solo exhibitions of invited international emerging talents. Chosen by an international curatorial board, Esquillo is one of twenty-four artists whose works are included in this special section and who are eligible for the illy Present Future Prize.

Turning Inward, the exhibition by Esquillo showcases four works that combine painting, sculpture and assemblage. These pieces are marked by the artist’s preoccupation with dimensions of selfhood, mediated by understandings of spirituality in a milieu not far removed from the Philippine locale. While steeped in local history, Esquillo raises forth the notion of inner mindfulness within a context that is familiar: our world in a rush, besieged by signals and signs, constantly fractured, perpetually overwhelmed.

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The works incorporate Biblical imagery and partake of themes familiar to religion: the fall, redemption, and salvation. By way of voluble and tactile image, Esquillo imparts humanity to these otherwise profound states as he hints by way of skill and vision the many dimensions of sin, suffering, and atonement. It is notable the artist places these manifold expressions of corporeal misery and spiritual dearth in familiar sanctums: altars and tabernacles, domestic and quotidian spaces, the divide between earth-bound longings and spiritual striving.

None can relay these aspirations strongly than a disposition towards introspection, a deep devotion to understanding existence, a sure hand that coaxes material and image to converse around these other-worldly themes, attributes that greatly define Alfredo Esquillo’s approach to art. His rendering of a mode of realism is markedly alive and breathing, mobilizing the image mediated by vision and skill in gestures of query, a kind of blessing, indeed a form of succor offered only by art of such depth. In his proposition of an ‘inward turn’, something he defines as ‘inner mindfulness’, Esquillo pursues a path, a striving for coherence of what makes art’s purpose in our time.

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Piety and Place

Excerpts from interview essay for the Semblance/Presence exhibition at the National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore in 2012, exhibition images from the NUS Museum Picasa album

The Black Nazarene procession gathers heaving crowds, maroon-clad and barefoot devotees struggling to grasp the ropes tied to the carriage that ferries the figure of Christ burdened by the cross along a route within the city. On its feast day every 9th of January, the figure of the Black Nazarene would leave the sanctum of the Quiapo Basilica in Manila, pass through adjoining Plaza Miranda, the district’s main highway and side streets, cross Quezon Bridge and back, and weave through Manila’s avenues and crannies. At nightfall, the crowds and the Black Nazarene return to church.

Image credit: http://www.pinoyadventurista.com

Despite the threat of a terrorist attack (which is not unusual as there was a similar risk in 2005) and the President’s warning, millions joined the procession in January 2012.The procession is said to be the longest recorded, almost taking an entire day to finish. The procession theme “Spirits of God the Father and the Black Nazarene Christ, make the Filipino nation rise again!” (Espiritu ng Ama at ng Panginoong Hesus Nazareno, Sambayanang Pilipino, ibangon po ninyo) is apt plea, perhaps a foreboding of the difficulties encountered during the long walk. Monsignor Clemente Ignacio of the Quiapo basilica likened the broken wheel of the carriage, the sundered ropes, and the frenzied crowd to Christ’s fall along the path to Calvary. Through these the pain and suffering of Christ about to be crucified is relived through the procession. At 6AM on 10th January, the Black Nazarene returned to the Basilica that is its home.

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Renato Habulan and Alfredo Esquillo, Jr. “Mga Hinirang” (Chosen People) film still 2012

Artists  Renato Habulan and Alfredo Esquillo have assiduously recorded the procession for decades. Joining the crowds, waiting at a good vantagealong Jones Bridge or talking to devotees, they amassed boxes of photographs. Habulan’s set dates back to around the eighties and Esquillo’s to the early nineties. Like the Nazarene devotees, they practice a kindred devotion, one where art prominently figures. It this this journey that their art fleshes out in their construction of an alternate geography of faith. This passage is one wherein art becomes compass and where the future not just of the individual but of larger congregation is mulled over. The faith nourished and examined during the journey is far from steadfast. It is a wavering and ambivalent kind. This uncertainty however lends reflexivity to their art and in turn endows creative expressions with sharpened insight.

Gestures of healing

The Black Nazarene’s dominant trope is the suffering Christ burdened by the cross and the sins of man. This suffering is deemed as path to devotion and salvation. Devotees yearly partake of this agony, reliving them yet again as vow, prayer and gratitude. In a span of 22-hours at most, devotees and the Christ who carries the cross become one.

The experience is magnified for prophets like Lauro, who enacts the life of Christ every Friday, the day of devotion to the Nazarene. Fenella Cannell proposes an understanding of such ‘imitation’ as a form of intercession “where hierarchies are reduces and negotiated”. In the case of Nazarene devotees and healers like Lauro, this negotiation is appropriative and largely enacted and lived through proximity – the prized location is to be near the Nazarene image, to hold the ropes, for one’s kerchief to touch the Nazarene’s face.

Lauro claims a church in Plaza Miranda, a place beyond the threshold of the Quiapo basilica. Those healed claim hearing a voice that urged them to go out of the church, to venture beyond the chapel doors. The voice is prescient of Lauro’s claim that few know him yet, “I never introduce myself, but I am sought”. And those who knew and found him all attest in quiet humility, to have known healing and grace.

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Dwell in faith

Renato Habulan, Alfredo Esquillo and Lauro Gonzales share a vision of congregation, not necessarily a nation, redeemed whichever way by the New Jerusalem, the church within or the evolved individual. The congregation comes in multitude of formations, which in Patrick Flores’s beguiling alternatives to nation can be “scattered anarchy, a radical democracy, a cosmopolitan citizenship” or in Habulan’s imagination the “proletariat of mankind” and indeed in the prophet Lauro’s vision a “mystical group” who survives the end with souls uncorrupted. 

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These negotiations with entrenched power are attempts to make sense of discrepant realities that forge our existence in cities, where we dwell in almost daily conflict and flux. It is hope that springs from these transactions and fervent faith that ensues which help us endure and survive a world perpetually besieged.