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Arts and Culture

Lyra Garcellano, Amorsolo and the ‘Spectre of Comparison’

The Philippine Star
  Lyra Garcellano,  Amorsolo and the âSpectre of Comparisonâ

Video work for “Tropical Loop”

Lyra Garcellano’s statement allows us to reconsider our aspirations for Western recognition — how one might say that they’ve ‘made it’ only if they’ve ‘made it in New York.’

MANILA, Philippines — Lyra Garcellano works at the intersection of the abstract and the concrete. This Art Fair Philippines, Garcellano’s “Tropical Loop” throws questions to viewers talking of our history and representation.

Lyra Garcellano was born in 1972. Primarily a visual artist, she works with installation and paintings and often unpacks notions of identity and displacement in her works. Currently, she is finishing her graduate studies in Art Theory in the University of the Philippines.

Lyra Garcellano

Garcellano’s artistic practice involves a lot of research. Information is integral in her works. From library visits to browsing through the news, she has been collecting information throughout years of her artistic practice, only deciding to unpack them once the time and space is right.

“Tropical Loop” is an extension of a previous project. Alongside a re-installation of a neon signage, Garcellano will also be showing two new videos for this project. This year, Garcellano’s work discusses the nuances in representation and identity.

This show reflects on Fernando Amorsolo and his work. That while Amorsolo is an important and well-known name in Philippine visual arts, it is equally important to consider what kind of nation Amorsolo was proliferating by virtue of his idyllic paintings of the countryside. We are all-too familiar with it: the rice paddies, the smiling women, the farmers tilling the land — Garcellano highlights the absurdity of this image that continues to be reinforced and understood by the West to be true.

Garcellano moreover reflects on the West’s presence in Southeast Asia as Amorsolo painted these idealistic expressions of the tropics. How might have these people been persuaded to come to our shores, aside from believing that it was their destiny to move past their territorial landscape?

While these questions are not new, they are neither outdated nor thought about enough. The more we reflect on it, the more we can observe the push and pull of Western-centric ideologies. Garcellano is able to bring these concerns to the forefront, somewhat shaking us all off of a trance of passive acceptance. As for me, “Tropical Loop” pulls me into thinking about the West’s presence in ASEAN Summits and the creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1954 in cooperation with the West to combat communism.

Southeast Asian Artist: To be or not to be. Images courtesy of the artist
 

Garcellano also poses the viewer with the statement, “Southeast Asian Artist: To be or not to be,” and allows us to reconsider our aspirations for Western recognition — how one might say that they’ve “made it” only if they’ve “made it in New York.” How best can we tell our stories even if our education has been both blurred and shaped by Western-facing ideas of success?

“Spectre of comparison” was first used by Jose Rizal in his book, Noli Me Tangere, where he describes that he is reminded of Europe while looking at Philippine gardens. Garcellano similarly talks of the same sentiment in “Tropical Loop”: we currently and will always see persistent remnants of our colonial past in our present, not only in the Philippines, but in the whole of Southeast Asia.

“Tropical Loop” is a concise take on geopolitical concerns and issues. This Art Fair Philippines, Garcellano’s work not only gives us something to be visually arrested by, but something to reflect on for ourselves for days to come.

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