Nothing bad can come from the recognition of establishment, especially when the result is its obliteration.
Late last year, ARNDT Gallery Berlin presented a group exhibition of 19 Filipino artists who represent directions that break away from our current notions of what Philippine art is supposed to be. Under the title WASAK! Filipino Art Today, the exhibit curated by Norman Crisologo and Erwin Romulo exposed the work of Zean Cabangis, Annie Cabigting, Buen Calubayan, Louie Cordero, Jigger Cruz, Marina Cruz, Kawayan de Guia, Alfredo Esquillo, Ian Fabro, Nona Garcia, Pow Martinez, Manuel Ocampo, Alwin Reamillo, Norberto Roldan, Kaloy Sanchez, José Santos III, Rodel Tapaya, Tatong Torres, and Ronald Ventura to Western audiences.
Video artist Cocoy Lumbao recounts in the foreword to a book accompanying the exhibit how every transitional period in the history of Philippine art began with the shattering of pre-conceived essentialist notions. “There always seems to be a breaking point,” he points out, “that point where one begins to display signs of resistance against any enveloping characteristic formulated by the Other.”
This is most obvious in the revolutions of artists and intellectuals as early as Amorsolo and Rizal, who created idyllic visions of the Philippines as a unified, pastoral country, resisting the notions of the powerful Western gaze. But Lumbao proposes that even the ilustrados’ vision is one that has been essentialized over time and subsequently shattered.
Today’s artists continue in the tradition of shattering the establishment, which Lumbao says is symptomatic of most Filipino mindsets, given the embroilment of our country’s history in colonial rule.
The WASAK! artists find a variety of standpoints from which to represent the Philippine experience, even reflexively and paradoxically.
Annie Cabigting’s paintings are often referential, considering paintings from different places, different people, and different points in history to critique the institutional presentation of art, or perhaps to prompt the viewer to become aware of one’s participation in the art process.
Meanwhile the work of Buen Calubayan, per Lumbao, epitomizes everything paradoxical in Filipino art: “history rooted in personal trivia… appropriating Western practices while searching for what is inherently Filipino.”
Marina Cruz considers her art from a domestic standpoint, something rare in an increasingly technological world that forces people to reach outward rather than inward.
Kawayan de Guia “combines indigenous artifacts with contemporary ideas about sculpture and installation.”
Manuel Ocampo challenges academic notions of “bad” and “good” in art, paradoxically becoming definitive to a thriving art world against which Ocampo attempts to defy: that of the institutions and the art market.
Though the exhibit closed on January 30 this year, the accompanying book, also titled Wasak! Filipino Art Today and published by DISTANZ Verlag, will see its Philippine launch at Art Fair Philippines 2016 on February 20. Edited by Matthias Arndt, Norman Crisologo, and Erwin Romulo, the book features portraits of the artists by Tim Serrano and profiles their themes, past exhibits, and contributions to Wasak! and the local art scene at large.