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The history of struggle is a struggle against oblivion

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published May 29, 2021 4:00 am

History is malleable, dictators know this.

Stalin was a walking Adobe Photoshop: having enemies erased from photographs and having them deleted from existence during the Great Purge. Trump and his sycophants are trumpeting those despotic moves, although in a more cuckoo-klux QAnon manner.

Revising history has become an integral part of the modus operandi of politicians. So, again, where was Lapu-Lapu’s original crib? It is really up to historians, writers, artists, curators and other cultural operators to do the remembering for everyone else.

Dr. Joven Cuanang, gallery owner and patron of the arts, does not want people to slip into a coma of conditioned forgetting. According to curator Patrick Flores, Dr. Cuanang thought that it would be terrible for artists to miss the opportunity to reflect on the entangled history of colonization, Christianization, and struggle of all kinds between then and now.

 ‘Thy Kingdom Come (Left)’ and ‘Thy Kingdom Come (Right)’ by Iggy Rodriguez

Flores explains, “In light of the pandemic, no institution was able to conceive and realize an exhibition of this sort; and this was, of course, understandable. So Dr. Cuanang and Pinto ventured that a modest exhibition which spoke to the implications of this vital memory work was a significant contribution to the discourse, and perhaps a lively way to complicate the official spectacle.”

Are there any new discoveries to be made about us Filipinos 500 years after the events of 1521? Are we still conscious of the need to struggle and voice out our dissent — or are we just going to blindly accept our fate, politically, economically and socially?

 “A History of Struggle: Philippine Art Remembers 1521,” an exhibition curated by Flores and opening May 30 at the Pinto Art Museum, responds to the contexts surrounding the commemoration of the 500 years of the first circumnavigation of the world through the works of Philippine contemporary artists.

 “Pagtabok” by Charlie Co

The exhibition threads through simultaneously local and global events such as Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage, the triumph of Lapu-Lapu, and the first Catholic Mass.

Recalling these historical moments serves as an opportunity for the artists to interpret the implications of a fraught history in the pandemic present and the contemporary reflections evoked by it. Exploring social criticism, allegory, counter-history, alternative mythology and other visual strategies, the artists for the exhibition offer diverse responses in the registers of a revisit and a projection.

“A History of Struggle” prompts them to risk imagery and technique while remaining rooted in the artistic resources that have made them strongly placed to speculate creatively on this arduous history of struggle.

 “Centuries’ Ramblings in the Land of No Respite” by Rodney Yap

Flores talks about his method of putting the show together:

“I chose artists who are invested in figuration and keen to deepen the relationship between image and reality, narrative and so-called fact. I challenged them to offer insights in terms of allegory, counter-memory, alternative mythology. I won’t say I was surprised by some of the works. Let’s just say that I found the work of Lee Paje, Ernest Concepcion and Norberto Roldan idiosyncratic in their take on remembering 1521. Moreover, I wanted to look into the obsession with painting or sculpture as the media for historical retelling; or how painting and sculpture may morph out of their engagement with historical retelling.”

 “Escape from the Ceremony of Wearing Skin” by Lee Paje

The curator amplifies his thoughts about the role of artists and curators in thwarting politicians’ predilection for revising history.

“Artists and curators have endeavored to raise difficult questions partly to pressure politicians and their minions to respond with equivalent difficulty and prevent them as much as possible from simplifying historical reckoning. That’s a long shot and a tough task, but not impossible. Revising history is part of this tricky process, the back and forth, the push and pull of claims. What is not productive is abusing the opportunities of interpretation for selfish and partisan interests.”

 “LL-3000” by Ernest Concepcion

Among the participating artists in “A History of Struggle” are Ambie Abaño, Alfredo Esquillo, Allan Balisi, Antipas Delotavo, Anton Del Castillo, Arturo Sanchez Jr., Charlie Co, Dex Fernandez, Dexter Sy, Doktor Karayom, Emmanuel Garibay, Ernest Concepcion, Iggy Rodriguez, Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Julie Lluch, Kawayan De Guia, Kidlat Tahimik, Lee Paje, Leeroy New, Leonard Aguinaldo, Marcel Antonio, Norberto Roldan, Paolo Icasas, Renz Baluyot, Roberto Feleo, Rodel Tapaya, Rodney Yap, Romulo Galicano, Ronson Culibrina, and Victor Balanon.

According to the organizers: “The sensibilities and sources of the artists included in this exhibition vary and embody a wide range of commitments. ‘A History of Struggle’ enlivens this diversity to cast postcolonial Philippine history more decisively and translate this history to insightful artistic form.”

 “Conquistador” by Leeroy New

The exhibition is on view until Aug. 8.

Are there any new discoveries to be made about us Filipinos 500 years after the events of 1521? Are we still conscious of the need to struggle and voice out our dissent — or are we just going to blindly accept our fate, politically, economically and socially?

“We should all aspire to the creativity and the criticality of art,” concludes Patrick Flores. “I think art — urgent and compelling art — rails against this blind acceptance.”

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Pinto Art Museum is at 1 Sierra Madre St, Grand Heights Subdivision, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal. For information, call (02)86971015 or visit Pinto Art Museum on their  Facebook page  or @pinto.art.museum_official  on Instagram.