I was commissioned to do a set of pen and ink illustrations for an upcoming book on the City of San Juan. This kept me occupied for the past two weeks as I tried to fit in hours of cross-hatching with my day job. My hand was aching after I finished the entire set. Now I remember why I don’t do that much pen and ink work.
These drawings are merely interpretations of the descriptions in the book; although I did try as much as I could to research and be historically accurate.
I’ve been busy these past few months working on an upcoming children’s book entitled “Isang Harding Papel” set during the 1970s – the Martial Law years. Written by Augie Rivera and published by Adarna House. The book will be coming out soon.
As with all period stories, research is essential; not just textual research but visual as well. Protest pictures were relatively easy enough to find, as well as images of the infamous Metrocom that truncheoned protesters into submission; but the smaller things proved a bit problematic. For example, what did the National Highway known as EDSA look like before ugly gigantic billboards sprouted up and blotted out the sky? What did the old propaganda billboards of President Marcos and Imelda Marcos look like?
Tight timelines only allowed me internet research with Google image search providing the bulk of the reference pictures. Some sites were particularly useful to my research, though. The blog site The First Quarter Storm Library had a lot of protest images during the early 70s while the flickr site by Gorio72 had loads of bus images and advertisements from various decades in Philippine history.
I was also able to grab some reference pictures from the long out of print book “The History of the Burgis” by Mariel N. Francisco and Fe C. Arriola published in 1987. Here is a little glimpse inside the book.
For more information about Martial Law and its victims, here’s a link to the Martial Law Memory Project initiated by online news portal, Interaksyon.
I have always been fascinated with this era in Philippine history and it amazes me that in just two decades after Ferdinand Marcos’ exit, people’s feelings about Martial Law are slowly changing from outrage to ambivalence, and for some even fondness. More stories have to be written, movies filmed, and pictures made about our past so that we won’t easily forget.
Lastly, another book that was useful in my research is a pictorial account of the EDSA Revolution – the bloodless revolt during February of 1986 that toppled the Marcos regime. I was only 7 at the time of the revolution but I had vague memories of seeing the coverage on TV and the fervor of those heady days spilling onto our school.
I’m part of an ongoing group exhibit entitled Collaborator. Organized byBoxplot, three artists from Australia and three from the Philippines were paired up to developed individual works that stem from online discussions (email, facebook, and skype) about the theme. Since this is probably one of the very few places my work will ever be seen, I thought I’d post the three paintings I did for the exhibit.
The theme “collaborator” has both positive and negative connotations. A collaborator could be a creative partner or it could be someone in collusion with an enemy or an invading force. Whether positive or negative, my partner and I we decided that the idea of a collaborator touched on questions of identity. A shared work obviously blurs the line of personal creative ownership while collaborating with an enemy calls into question one’s allegiance and identity.
On a basic level, I thought of the whole idea of collaboration as a mash-up. I tried to draw on my own country’s history with colonial powers and tried coming with up with pictures that reflected Philippine culture and history as a series of mash-ups between indigenous culture and the culture of an occupying force.
Some background context:
The Philippines has been occupied by three major powers throughout its history: Spain (1521 – 1898), United States of America (1898 – 1946, with a 4-year break when the Japanese took over), and Japan (1942 – 1945)
The Philippines is predominantly Catholic, having received the religion from the Spaniards.
For the first work “Santo Santo”, I thought of it as a Spain/Philippines mash up. The costume of the main figure was something worn by the Filipino mestizos of the 19th century. It was a hybrid of European clothing adapted to local tastes. In the painting are two statues, the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) and a bulul, a wooden figure used to guard the rice crop by the Igorot people of Northern Philippines.
Many Philippine Catholic homes have Santo Niño statues, and devotees would often ask favor from the icon, touching or rubbing the statue as if it was a talisman to bring favor or ward off evil. In some ways, it is similar to placement of bulul figures by ancient Filipinos to guard their granaries.
“Turo” is filipino for point. There are food stalls in the Philippines called “turo-turo” which literally means that you point at whatever you like to eat and they serve it up to you.
The central image is that of a “makapili“. A Filipino collaborator used by the Japanese during World War II to point out Filipino rebels from a line-up for execution. My grandparents told me that these collaborators often wore a “bayong” (a woven shopping bag) over their heads to hide their identities.
Incidentally “turo-turo” is also a word play on tora tora. It was a Japanese code-word used to indicate that complete surprise had been achieved during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tora! Tora! Tora! was a World War II film on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”
“Asa” or more accurately “Pag-asa” is Filipino for “Hope”. Filipinos can be fatalistic. It is not unheard of for people to throw all caution to the wind and let God sort out all problems. This may partly explain the popularity of TV game shows where Filipinos line up for hours just to get a chance to enter a contest in the hopes of winning a bit of money to alleviate one’s poverty.
This fatalism can be summed up by the phrase “bahala na” or something like “whatever will be, will be” or “come what may”. So you hear utterances like “bahala na ang Diyos” or “let’s leave it up to God”. This has mutated to the phrase “bahala na si Batman” (hence the central image), which is often used in Filipino conversations.
It is said that the Philippines spent 300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood. Which seems to explain the country’s entrenched religious order as well as the Philippines’ love for American pop culture.
The Exhibit runs from Friday 25 April – Sunday 11 May, 2014
(Official Exhibition Opening Event: 6pm – 8pm Thursday 24 April) Where: 22 Gibson Street, Bowden Entry: Free / All Works for Sale Opening Times: 1pm – 6pm, Thursday to Sunday (including Anzac Day public holiday)
I was lucky enough to be included in Canvas Gallery’s exhibit during the 2014 Art Fair Philippines which happened last February. It was my first time to participate in the Fair, and it was a little overwhelming seeing all the great work from other artists.
Canvas Gallery’s show was entitled “Paraluman” or muse. Sixteen artists created narrative pieces that, hopefully, could generate a host of crowd-sourced stories. The images were uploaded onto a website (http://canvasstories.com) where the audience can view the paintings and submit their own stories.
The painting I made was this:
Years ago, I picked up a battered sale copy of Robert Bly’s book Iron John: A Book About Menfor PhP 20 (USD 0.45). A summary of the book can be found in this site. Basically, the book is an exegesis of the Iron John story, included the Brothers Grimm collection of fairy tales. The story was interpreted as a journey of a boy through manhood with the help of the wild man.
The exegesis was rife with imagery and meaning, and the notion of some “wild man” as a guide to claiming true masculine energy seemed interesting to me from a visual standpoint. Anyway, I made several attempts to make a picture that was at least tangential to some of the ideas in the book, and I was only able to actually finish something this year (deadlines can be our friends).
Though i never really set out to do a direct illustration of the Iron John story. Some elements in the painting touch on some of the concepts in the book while others grew out spontaneously from fleshing out the imagery.
In all my previous studies and down to this final picture, there were always three constant characters and elements:
A body of water with a caged wild man
An enlightened character (in this case, the lotus-head boy)
For more about info Art Fair Philippines click here to visit their facebook and click here to visit Canvas Gallery’s facebook page.
Although a bit late, here are some articles about this year’s Art Fair: