One could argue that all art is about identity, in one way or another. No matter how much an artist tries to distance themself from their subject, the work will always contain traces of their worldview, their relative position to other people, or their place in history. So the challenge posed to us by Ama, Anak—Eskinita Art Gallery’s three-man exhibit of works by Renato Habulan, his son Guerrero Habulan, and Renato’s son-in-law Pro Gelleduga—is to consider how identities are shaped by other identities.
Because of the undeniable influence that family members have on one another, Ama, Anak avoids becoming a simple depiction of three distinct people, and instead weaves a common thread through all of their pieces. The fun comes from attempting to find the points of intersection: where one family member’s story ends, where another’s begins, and how all the pieces might be able to fit together. But no matter how well one knows the Habulans, either personally or professionally, Ama, Anak still seems to offer a larger, universal narrative about how our perspectives change as we get older.
Consider Gelladuga’s paintings as the first act: all of his works present the innocent point of view of his young daughter, a third culture kid who has yet to raise questions about her complicated upbringing. To her, a life of constant travel comes as naturally as her imagination. In “Sail Away,” she perches atop her luggage with the flags of a galleon emerging behind her. In “Swan,” she rests on the same maleta as a swan blankets her with its wing. And in “Modern City,” the rest of the world blurs past while she remains unmoved. There is specificity and subjectivity to Gelladuga’s works; through these storybook-like paintings, we see how a child determines the nature of their world all on their own.
Then, with a single painting, Guerrero Habulan places this child figure on the threshold of maturity. His “Ahead of Time” bursts with colors and patterns suggesting an incongruity that wasn’t there before. The girl is a little older now, but her world has been interrupted by the head of an elderly man (Guerrero’s grandfather) sitting atop her own. A closer look reveals a spot of paint marking her arm like a scar. There is pain now, and a connection drawn between oneself and others. Guerrero shows us how, at this age, one’s world is a clash of thoughts and ideas. There is now recognition of where one has been, and where one is headed.
And where we are headed, according to Renato Habulan, is a world that arguably takes precedence over the individual. Though rendered in monochrome and muted colors, works like the “Boceto” series brim with religious, indigenous, and political imagery—concerns that have come to govern every adult’s life. The body is now obscured in shadow, as in “Drawing from Life,” or dwarfed by a turbulent landscape, as in his “San Telmo” series. Gone is the child of Gelladuga’s works who imposed her view on the world. Now we understand that the world imposes itself on us, and we have the responsibility to respond.
Taken as a whole, Ama, Anak can seem like a wistful farewell to one’s youth and sense of wonder. But none of the Habulans’ works ever despair. There is immediacy to all of them. Even Renato’s art maintains the conviction of an old master daring to speak up for the things that matter. And so, where some may see cynicism, we can also find wisdom. Ama, Anak reassures us that, even under the shadow of all the things that threaten to erode us, our identity is never lost. It only ever continues to build.
Ama, Anak is on display until April 3 at Eskinita Art Gallery, Makati Square, Makati City.