The 14th artist
NOTES FROM THE EDITOR - Singkit (The Philippine Star) - November 4, 2018 - 12:00am

I spend a good amount of time at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and that 49-year-old grand dame by the bay still manages to constantly pull a surprise or two.

One day a couple of weeks ago I was greeted by a black and white mural on the recently completed electrical building (called the Power House) by the South Parking entrance. Turns out it is part of this year’s Thirteen Artists Awards exhibit, ongoing at various venues all over the CCP until Dec. 23. The mural is a most welcome addition to an otherwise purely utilitarian back-of-the-house area.

The other day, rather than just head for my car, I paused and stepped back to get a good look at the mural, and the curves and swirls revealed a shrouded figure, like a corpse covered with a cloth from head to foot. This is the end part of awardee Archie Oclos’ work, “Ang Mamatay ng Dahil sa Iyo.” The beginning – titled “Bayang Magiliw” – can be found at the Pasilyo Vicente Manansala (second floor hallway) and consists of seven panels, each showing the back of a person’s head painted with the same curves and swirls on rice sacks. There’s a farmer, a woman, a bagets with headphones on… each one curiously with head tilted slightly to the right – except for the last panel showing a young boy with head straight. On the wall between the sixth and seventh panels is a little detail that explains the subtle difference in pose…but I won’t spoil it for you; go and see for yourself.

On the other hand, Carlo Gabuco’s multi-part work starts at the front lawn, next to National Artist Arturo Luz’s giant Paperclip sculpture. There a pink papier maché figure seemingly lounges on the grass. His work, “The Other Side of Town,” continues at the Pasilyo Juan Luna (third floor hallway) with a series of disturbing photograph-like frames on the wall and, across from them, eight video screens on the floor showing a constant stream of what appears to be footage of drug raids and the killing of drug suspects. It reminded me of The New York Times documentary on the drug war. Last year, Gabuco won an international grant for documentary photography, and – according to the exhibit notes – he indeed has been covering the drug war. And the figure on the front lawn – it’s up to you to decide what it represents. 

I must admit I hurried past the Pasilyo Juan Luna and headed into the Main Gallery to see the rest of the exhibit; videos of flashing police sirens and a woman wailing over a dead relative, even with the sound turned down, make for a very disturbing artistic experience. 

The works in the gallery are varied; stage costumes hanging from a clothesline topped by animistic-looking masks (by Zeus Bascon who surprisingly holds a degree in business!) and a series of flags/banners (by Dina Gadia) greet you at the entrance. 

I am quite a fan of Raffy Napay; his works in thread (he learned the skill of embroidery from his mother) are expressive and intriguing and magical and beautiful. When you enter his installation “Tahanan” you literally enter a wonderland – braids and strands of yarn hang from the ceiling like a curtain, through which you look at the panoramic landscape of flora painstakingly sketched then stitched, an enchanted forest that, I am told, took the artist over two weeks to put together. I was also told he used to work with oil paint, until an allergy put a stop to that; good thing it did!

At the far end of the gallery is Bea Camacho’s work “Absence” consisting of a stack of the Oct. 18 (the date the exhibit opened) issue of The Philippine STAR. “The work is about absence. It is about the imagined and implied, It is about allowing for filling in by leaving out, Creating meaning by removing content,” the artist, a Harvard graduate, explains. Something in that issue of The STAR – which sort of makes the paper like the 14th artist – completes her work; what it is I will again not spoil it for you by pointing it out.

The other works are likewise intriguing; they skew your perceptions and upend what you thought you knew. Eisa Jocson’s take on Snow White entitled “Princess Dolls” – complete with a video of 15 people (some of them men) dressed as the fairy tale character walking down Roxas Blvd. swishing their skirts and waving “Goodbye!” – hidden in a recessed area (you have to remove your shoes to get in) will surely make you wonder about “happily ever after.”

This year’s artists are certainly an innovative and compelling lot; they challenge you not just to view their works but to participate, to engage, to weave your own tale and write your own narrative. They see the world differently from you and me, and through their works they dare us to see it through their eyes.

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