a version of this was published in the Arts and Books Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 21 2010.
In May 1898, Apolinario Mabini wrote his Dekalogo, a list which reconfigures the 10 commandments into one that does not forget nation or nationalism. In May 2010, CANVAS’ Dekalogo (Vargas Museum, U.P. Diliman) forces us all to remember just that. And in the context of an election just done with and a new government ready to change our lives, it couldn’t come at a better time. Yes, the goal of campaigning for wise voting seems to be lost here, but it doesn’t mean this exhibit’s any less powerful.
The people as powerful
Number 10on the Decalogue, which speaks of treating one’s neighbor as brother and comrade, becomes more powerful in Elmer Borlongan’s hands. In “Kapit-Bisig” the idea of unity isn’t just about people arm-in-arm, it’s also about a finite circle of people, looking up to the sky, seemingly ready for anything that comes.
Ferdie Montemayor’s “Alab” as inspired by the fifth on the Decalogue is interesting because the idea of fieriness is rendered as possibly about happiness and war at the same time. With hands raised up in the air in fists and otherwise, with mouths wide open as if in the act of screaming, the citizenry seems to be aiming for the light that shines in the background. This is nothing but a paean to the people’s power.
Governance and choice
Karen Flores’ “Eclipse” is a contemporary rendition of number seven on Mabini’s Decalogue, which speaks of the possibility that those who have the power to govern are not those that the people voted for. Flores’ contemporary rendition is that of a faceless man, holding a woman in one hand, being held as well by the puppet on his other hand. The strength of this work lies in the truth that those in power are mere puppets of bigger powers that have the strongest hold on nation.
Jim Orencio’s “Sulong sa Isip at Gawa” renders the eighth on the Decalogue as personal history even when it speaks of fighting for national sovereignty and refusing monarchy. Orencio’s canvas is filled with images of a person’s growth in nation, from family to school, a sense of unity to a sense of nationalism.
Individuality and nationalism
Cris Villanueva’s take on the sixth on the Decalogue merges together, layer upon layer, the notions of his past and present, of the Philippines as locality and the influences of Western pop culture. Here, the story of the individual is intertwined with the story of nation, the goodness and value of the citizen is exactly that of the nation as well, as Mabini had said.
This is also what’s at the core of the third in the Decalogue, which speaks of the value of the individual citizen’s sharpness of mind and sense of justice. In Tammy Tan’s “Pagsasanay ng Diwa” the face of a bright-eyed happy child, hands intertwined in front of him, atop a thick book, also deals with the idea of education not just as knowledge, but about strength.
John Jose Santos III’s take on the ninth of the Decalogue is interesting because it creates the image of Mabini into both self and neighbor, where on looks from within and another looks from outside, where the wall says “no trespassing” and the eyes of both Mabinis seem to be content in the status quo of distance and strangeness. This ninth on the Decalogue insists in treating one’s neighbors well. Santos III points out how in the current times this is almost impossible.
Religiosity without the images
Anthony Palomo takes on the second on the Decalogue by refusing to use an image of Christ, even as it would be the more obvious choice. Instead, its creation of the notions of conscience, soul and religiosity are tied up with the idea of faith and heroism, and its possibilities for blindness and falsity.
This refusal to use religious images is also in Neil Manalo’s “Ang Pinakahihintay” which speaks of number one of the Decalogue that puts God and honor before anything else. In Manalo’s hands though, the canvas is filled with the most unexpected hues of almost neon yellow and green, with the image of an army, long brooms as its weapon, seemingly cleaning up the sky.
The state of the nation
Manny Garibay’s take on the fourth of the Decalogue, which speaks of valuing nation as it is where one is placed by God, and from which one lives, loves and owns, takes on the image of the Mabini himself. He seems oblivious to what’s going on in the rest of the canvas: a small fallen monument of Rizal to one side, a bunch of bananas on another , a miniature version of the Malacanang Palace far off in the distance, popular American icon Mickey Mouse looks over the rest of the canvas from high up, beneath which are images of seemingly fallen man and woman. The state of the nation, to a seemingly calm Mabini is both a call to action, as it is a criticism of the current state of affairs.
Mabini’s power lives.
Tagged: Anthony Palomo, art exhibit, CANVAS, contemporary art, contemporary Pinoy art, Cris Villanueva, Dekalogo, Dekalogo 2010, Elmer Borlongan, exhibits, Ferdie Montemayor, Jim Orencio, John Jose Santos III, Karen Flores, Manny Garibay, Neil Manalo, Tammy Tan, Vargas Museum