a version of this was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 26 2009.
Kawayan de Guia is clear about his art. It’s his way of talking to the world, engaging it in dialogue, transcending its limits. It’s his upbringing, his lifeblood, his provincial context that is Baguio. It’s his grounding in history, his way of telling stories, his political stance.
Speaking this concretely and categorically about his art, Kawayan just might be the more uncompromising of our contemporary young artists. To explain one’s art may after all be seen as violent to one’s works, if not the end to one’s career: isn’t the appeal of art precisely its lack of clear reason?
But Kawayan tells it otherwise. The human condition is central to his work, cutting across the tragic and comic towards the boastful, highlighting the notions of progress and development as falsities, bringing to the fore the need to see a bigger picture. To Kawayan, the structures that abound in our world are but perspectives that need to be broken down into pieces, if only to take discussions to another place, that’s anywhere but here.
Here though, is where Kawayan is clearly grounded. His interests in popular culture and socio-political events place him and his ideas squarely in the Philippines, in things that are undoubtedly Pinoy. His current project is one that combines two pop machines, the jukebox and the jeepney, into one huge functional art piece that speaks of dreams, colonial history, and the Filipino spirit. Involvement can’t get any better than that, at this time of crises, at thiscrucial point in our neo-colonial history, at this particular time when we have lost the jeepney as artwork to the globalized world economy.
It is also everything and relevant, this need to speak from a Pinoyperspective that really need not be explicitly stated by Kawayan himself. A look at his works proves that he has a clear sense of the problems that beset the Filipino, if not the problematique that is being Pinoy. The images that Kawayan interweaves in his works are familiar in their seeming discontent, or sadness, or displacement – a paean to things rendered mute or silent or lost (if not all of the above?), be it by history or politics or spirituality, or just as a matter of course.
In the end this 30-year old seems to be most different from other artists his age because of what he calls the larger scope of things. To Kawayan, there is a bigger picture. One that he paints and creates through his art, one that he is necessarily part of, and one that he is perennially breaking into or moving this dialogue towards.
Now that, over and above the awards he has received and the father that he has, is what makes Kawayan an exciting artist yes, but maybe more perfectly, an important one.