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Navigating history’s blindspots

By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA, The Philippine Star Published Jul 29, 2022 7:10 am

The lights are out in Escolta but techno pulses brightly from within First United Building. There is a defiance in choosing to come as you are and dance in a crowded room in a way that there hasn’t been for years. It’s a hard-earned freedom that we must cherish and keep fighting for. Our ancestors did, as depicted in photographs of gatherings of resistance, illustrated in blurry static by the artist Mano Gonzales in his first solo show, “Blindspot Machinery.”

“Personal and collective memory can contradict one another which complicates our search for historical truth,” Gonzales tells YStyle. “We live in a reality where so many stories and facts are being dismissed or erased right in front of us. But in this process so many stories emerge as well. The intention of using these archival images serves as flash points, like going to the same place to see if there’s something we missed.”

YSTYLE: Drawing the details of each photograph one by one, what have you discovered or felt?

Mano Gonzales

Mano Gonzales: I started working on these drawings during lockdown and it became an instrument for me to look at our current state and sit with my thoughts. It was a way for me to cope with such a strange reality where things felt upside down. I drew the images to look kind of blurred but since it was important for me to portray the emotional psyche of the subjects and connect it to our own, I was very careful to keep the gaze of these subjects. In this manner I wanted to question society and our relationship to one another, our relationship to our past and the systems we are a part of.

You’re known for your work in fashion as a stylist, creative director, and editor. Was it intentional to separate your artistic work as an illustrator from styling and creative direction with the subject matter at hand, or do they share similarities?

‘Valientes’’ (18.5 in x 10 in, pencil on paper)

I drew throughout my childhood. I believe I started reading at a later age. So in a way, drawing and making images have always been my first language. Creating images is my main thing. It’s through making art that I can reach a psychological, emotional or political level that I can’t access with anything else. For my work as an artist and a stylist, although at face value they don’t seem to share similarities, there is a parallelism at play. But I think that at the heart of what I do is storytelling. And the tactility of my work is very important, working with my hands.

Some of the pieces are framed in woodworks in the intricacy of those found in ancestral houses as well as the steelwork used in jeeps and tricycles. Can you tell us about them?

Without Hope (11in x 6.5 in, pencil on paper)

For this set of works I started to think of the future using tactile objects from our past (historical images) and our present (jeepneys/tricycles) and connecting all of those together (in the framed illustrations). I wanted to show how the past and present are singing the same song but using different harmonies.

‘‘Without Fear’’ (11in x 6.5 in, pencil on paper)

How do you feel about the present moment? Are you hopeful for the future?

We are at a very crucial time in our country’s history. Our stories have been told for us so many times and now we have to really look at everything we have right now and what has happened to us to take us in the right direction. We have to remind ourselves that the world is in a constant state of becoming, half-made and half-unmade. But our generation is reevaluating how the world works now more than ever and that gives me a lot of hope.

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“Blindspot Machinery” is on view at The Den, First United Building, Escolta Street, Manila and online at thedenmanila.com until Aug. 18.