Censored painting goes on solo show
- Krip Yuson () - February 14, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The horror! The horror! In this day and age, censorship? Of a work of art?

That’s exactly what happened with Igan D’Bayan’s painting titled “Gothika Filipina 2” – which should have been included in the Asian International Art Exhibition (AIAE) held from November 2009 to January 2010. But the curators didn’t allow the painting to join the display at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.         

Invited to participate in the prestigious annual exhibit together with nine other prominent Filipino visual artists, D’Bayan was surprised when he was told by Lay Ann Orlina, wife of sculptor Ramon Orlina who chairs the Federation of Asian Artists (FAA)-Philippine Committee, that there was a potential problem with his painting, per the curators’ deliberation.

D’Bayan was given several options: submit another (presumably less provocative) painting, cover the “offending area,” or stand by his work and be willing to face the consequences. The flummoxed artist replied that he would stand by what he had painted.

Igan subsequently received a re-forwarded e-mail from KL through Ramon Orlina, saying that his painting couldn’t be accepted for the exhibit because “the secret part of a woman” was painted too clearly, and that they hoped the artist “could replace it with other works that don’t bring any bad interpretation from or to the audiences (sic).”

What exactly did the Malaysian officials find unacceptable in “Gothika Filipina 2”?        

The painting doesn’t exactly strike one as being pointedly in-your-face, not at all. Nor does its level of provocation dwell on the sexual. The imagery addresses socio-political questions more than anything else.      

A viewer’s initial reaction would be cognizance of a curious homage to Grant Wood’s famous work, “American Gothic.” Call it a deconstruction, since in place of realistic detail, the surrealist in Igan D’Bayan does his own hyper-Gothic, decidedly Pinoy take.

A couple still faces the viewer, with a house behind them. The head of the male is that of an invented creature that looks horrific with its curling horns, large dark sockets for eyes, an open mouth that has more teeth than Charlton Heston in Ben Hur - and most intriguingly, a pair of fleshy tendrils drooping from its proboscis. This male figure is in a barong Tagalog that is so diaphanous that it allows an X-ray scan of his ribcage and bowels. 

The same diaphanous material drapes the female figure, whose own revealed ribcage is only partially seen because her full breasts dominate her chest. In place of Wood’s emblematic pitchfork held by the man, this time it is the woman who carries something: a skull from whose mouth extends a symbolic tongue signifying the Philippine flag.

Oh, her pubis also shows, but it is subtle, certainly no beaver shot but with barely a hint of pubic hair. Other details draw more attention: an ersatz Third Eye on the triangular pediment of the building in the central distance; and the woman’s own steely eyes set in a face that would be pretty in a prim way, except for lips that extend as curving lines much like the Joker’s.

Her left arm cuts diagonally across her torso, with her hand clutching the skull. Her right arm is tucked behind her, maybe to meet up with the man’s left arm also hidden in that area.

It is that skull that rivets our attention, certainly not the lady’s vulva. With our flag for a tongue, it looks like a dog panting oh so strangely. Indeed, it is not the need for any panty that commands our interest.

The artist acknowledges that the portrait is that of “a despotic First Couple imposing iron-handed rule across the land while presenting themselves as a pair who has a divine mandate, and spreading the propaganda that the man and the woman sprang forth from the earth itself (just like ‘Malakas’ and ‘Maganda’ in local mythology).”

Is the supremacist man-beast Marcos, and the steely beauty Imelda? Those are questions that Filipino viewers can best discern the answers for themselves - which is why, all the more, the exposed female genitalia can only provoke middling interest.           

In Igan D’Bayan’s words, “There is an underlying sense of gluttony, violence and dread in the picture. It has everything dark and diabolical about Philippine history, albeit presented anachronistically: conjugal dictatorship, bomba movies, heavy metal iconography, maligno stories of barrio folk, and sci-fi horror videogames, etc.”

Now that may strike one as a post-colonial, post-modern gestalt of everything we recall in revulsion. Boobs and labia are such incidental, incremental elements of design that may speak only of collateral damage.           

Ironically, as announced in the invitation for participation that D’Bayan had received, the theme of the 24th AIAE was “Manifesting Diversity” - said to “aim at drawing attention to the changes in cultural practices” and how “the influx of endless information has inevitably influenced and diversified our ways of thinking and value judgment.”

Additionally, “The chosen theme is meant to encourage our artists to take a closer look on (sic) these changes in their respective cultural/social contexts where they can draw inspirations/ideas for diversified yet unique visual expression.”

That turned out to be more of a blah-blah litany of clichés from the organizers, who consigned Igan’s “Gothic Horrific” entry to the exhibition catalogue, in lieu of public display with some 120 other works from Asian artists, including Filipino artists Orlina, Susan Fetalvero-Roces, Ambie Abano, Virgilio Aviado, BenCab, Ross Capili, Araceli Limcaco-Dans, Joy Mallari, and Anna Varona.

What Igan found most upsetting was that he never received an official letter from the AIAE committee informing him of the “censorship.”

“I didn’t create a provocative work for the sake of provocation,” he says. “My aim was not to disrespect the local culture, sensibilities and moral values of the host country in any way.”

Igan has been asked to join up again in the Pinoys’ AIAE homecoming exhibition that will open at the BenCab Museum on May 1. He says he can’t participate there, either, as “it would be absurd for my painting to be part of a ‘homecoming’ show since it never left the building, so to speak.”

Instead, Igan D’Bayan will hold a one-painting show of “Gothika Filipina 2” at The Crucible Gallery at the Art Walk, fourth floor, SM Megamall A, starting on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The “internationally censored” painting will be on view until Feb. 28.

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