In the garden of Gethsemane, among the gnarled branches of the olive trees that seem to mirror his pain, Jesus Christ prays to be delivered from his impending suffering, while also gracefully yielding to his fate.
Julie Lluch’s recent work shown at Galerie Stephanie, titled Chronicles on Skin, seems to create a similar paradox: a clear objection to violence backgrounded by a calm recognition of reality. Scenes of oppression from Philippine history are inked delicately on the skin of human figures, which are cast in smooth resin and marble. “The idea of putting tattoos on the sculptures started when I saw these ghastly photographs of EJK and drug war victims,” Lluch said. She distilled these images into something endurable: “These are images of deaths, grief, sorrow, anguish. But I think this is the function of art—it makes the unbearable bearable so you can contemplate it.”
As host to the images, Lluch used molds from a previous work titled Irresistible Grace (mounted at Art Fair PH in 2020), to create human forms in cold-cast marble. That exhibit shows a reinterpretation of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium through larger-than-life figures of Filipino people and protests against the violence of the recent war on drugs. For this show, the bodies of the characters in the tableau are cut up and cast as dismembered body parts. It continues the theme of violence. Lluch commented, “For me, it is a symbol of a country in distress. A country that is oppressed and subjugated by a foreign or more powerful force.”
The piece that initiated the series is titled Resistance 1521 and was occasioned by the Quincentennial celebration of the circumnavigation of the world and one of the first documented defenses against invaders in Mactan island. The piece is a limbless torso with one hand seemingly outstretched. On its skin are indigenous warriors fighting off metal-clad invaders in a swirling landscape of land, seas, and skies.
Another piece titled EDSA Chronicles uses the same molded figure painted over with a montage of scenes during the twilight of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law: the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Cory Aquino addressing a sea of people in yellow. On the center of the torso is a winding Bakunawa, a serpent-like mythical creature about to devour the moon. Folklore recounts how people thwarted the Bakunawa’s attack by shouting “Luli kanamo ang among Bulan!” (Give us back our moon!). Lluch acknowledges that she is not a historian, but her selection of symbols digs up our history of dissent, which is enough to show that Filipinos are, and have always been, empowered people.
Sunrise (For Adi) is an ode to Lluch’s friend Adi Baen Santos: a nude charging into the sunrise with a paintbrush and palette as if they were battle gear. Baen was one of the known social realists in the country who presented the realities of the common Filipino during martial law. The piece reminds us of the responsibility of artists in standing up against injustices, which can be seen as early as in Juan Luna’s social realist works.
The elements in Chronicles on Skin weave back and forth between acceptance and resistance: the softness of brush strokes against the stolidity of cold-cast marble, the limbs and torsos cut off definitively, but retaining a sense of life for being originally posed in mid-motion. They appear as bodies laid out for post-mortem examination, imploring the viewer to seek justice along with a deeper understanding of everything that has happened.
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“Chronicles on Skin” was exhibited from March 17 to April 3 at Galerie Stephanie, located on the 4th floor of Shangri-la Plaza East Wing, Mandaluyong City. For more information, you may call +63 7940-5726 or email [email protected].