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Exhibit houses desires of homeless, landless Filipinos |

Arts and Culture

Exhibit houses desires of homeless, landless Filipinos

Ratziel San Juan -
Exhibit houses desires of homeless, landless Filipinos
Jonathan Joven's "Square Meters" solo exhibit
Art Cube Gallery

MANILA, Philippines — Poverty was literally a mountain to climb for visual artist Jonathan Joven, who once lived in Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila.

Like any resident in the country's icon of informal settlement, he knew the constant anxiety of eviction from their makeshift home.

Even shelter, a need and basic human right, seemed like an elusive dream for Jonathan’s community — and it was and continues to be for millions of Filipinos.

With firsthand authority, the artist dismantles this societal injustice piece by piece in his solo exhibit “Square Meters,” which runs at the Art Cube Gallery in Makati City until March 20.

“Gusto kong ipakita rito ang pagnanais ko at namin na magkaroon ng sariling lupa, espasyo at tirahan para maging tahanan ng aming pami-pamilya. Bunga ito ng pagkakaroon ng urbanisasyon at patuloy na pagluwas ng mga tao mula sa iba’t-ibang rehiyon na makapaghanap buhay sa Manila na sentrong siyudad ng ating bansa,” Jonathan told in an online interview. 

The title of the exhibit itself is an ironic device that questions how informal settlers could apply the concept of square meters to measure space in a mobile home.

Jonathan said the collection of works thematize how memories inhabit each place.

“Dahil dito sa mga lugar na ito ay may mga karanasan at alaala ang aming natirahan, katulad ng Smokey Mountain, Katuparan Condominium, bahay na kariton, pedicab na bahay at yung iba naman sa works ko ay mga pangarap na magkaroon ng sariling lupa at bahay. Ang mensahe o naratibo na gusto kong ipaabot ay ang reality ng mga taong walang sariling bahay at lupa na matitirhan.”

The exhibit consists of eight wall-bound works and a separate installation produced in the span of four months (excluding the conceptualization process and preparation of materials). These include:

  • "Titled" 4 x 8 feet
  • "Frontage" 4 x 6 feet
  • "Occupants" 4 x 6 feet
  • "Meters" 4 x 3 feet
  • "Adjacent" 3 x 4 feet
  • "Campers" 4 x 3 feet
  • "Rights" 3 x 4 feet
  • "Condominium" 4 x 2 feet
  • Installation: "Same Ground" size variable

Most of the artworks were produced using soft pastel on acrylic pastel ground on upcycled tracing paper on canvas. For “Condominium,” charcoal and soft pastel on upcycled tracing paper was used instead.

"Square Meters" is similar to its creator's previous tribute exhibit for frontliners in terms of aesthetic use of architectural blueprints.

“Ang proseso ginamit ko pa rin ay ang paggawa ng museum wrapped around canvas, tapos idinidikit ko ang upcycled tracing paper sa canvas na may color gray ground. Then after kong maidikit at ma-stretch ang tracing paper ay nag-a-apply ako ng acrylic pastel ground over it na maghahanda sa soft pastel para mas kapit na kapit siya sa ground. Then saka ako magsi-sketch at magpipinta gamit ang soft pastel,” Jonathan explained.

Meanwhile, he imagined “Same Ground” on the floor so that viewers can experience circling around it.

The installation includes raw materials from Jonathan’s place at Smokey Mountain, including coal made from the said mountain, as well as dumpsite remains like soil, plastics, hollow blocks and “bubog.” He also incorporated sand, gravel, scrap woods, old iron sheets and bermuda grass.

These materials representing their space were arranged to suggest geometrical divisions of the land with unequal measurements.

“Sisimbolo ito sa community or lugar na mayroong mga pag-aaring mga espasyo, kumbaga ay kapag tumingin ka mula sa itaas patungo sa installation work ay parang tumitingin ka sa Google Earth or satellite,” Jonathan said.

Each item in the exhibit houses a nomadic memory.

"Condominium" is the government housing project with four floors and an improvised storey, the rooftop: “‘Yung mga galing sa mga na-demolish na kabahayan ng informal settlers ay inililipat dito. Isa lamang ito sa mga pabahay na pwedeng malipatan namin noon nang ma-demolish kami sa Smokey Mountain. Dahil sa nagkakaroon na ng extended families sa bawat kabahayan, napilitang gamitin na rin yung espasyo sa rooftop para lang makapagpatayo ng sariling tirahan.”

“Meters” refers to electricity and water meters, which add to expenses and fuel headaches in the time of economic crisis: “Kapag pumapasok ka o lumalabas ng property ang metro ng kuryente gan’un din ng tubig ang kadalasang una at huling makikita mo sa property. Kaya inilagay din sa ang trabahong ito na kung papasok ka ng gallery ay siya ang una mong makikita or mapapansin, gan’un din sa paglabas mo sa exhibit ko.”

"Occupants" visualizes the common dream of obtaining furniture for one’s home, comparing furniture to household inhabitants as literal occupants, while “Campers” describe families (including pets) who make homes of pedicabs.

Jonathan said that homelessness should be discussed now more than ever especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tuwing titingin din ako sa social media sa Marketplace sa Facebook ay maraming makikitang binibentang bahay, lupa, mapa-rights man or titled ung property. Meron ding mga paupahang bahay at lupa,” he revealed.

Art Cube Gallery is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Walk-ins are accepted as long as they follow protocols like wearing a mask and filling out the health form upon entry. Only a maximum of 15 persons is allowed in the gallery at once.

For other inquiries, contact Nette Juvida at 0917-329-6273.

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