The one thing that resonates about Juan Sajid Imao’s recent work is its pain, and how this seamlessly intertwines with strength in black and red brass sculptures that make up Open Endings (Net Quad, Deutsche Knowledge Services Lobby, presented by Project Art and 1/of, now at 1/of Gallery, Serendra, Taguig City).
In a country where sculptors are few and far between, most of who work on the universal notions of humanity and being Pinoy, there was something strikingly different about Imao’s work here. And no, it isn’t just the fact of its colors against this building’s stark white floors. It’s the fact of relevance and power all in a tightly knit package, ready for the taking. And you leave the exhibit having taken so much more than the imagers of these works.
The power of sculpture
The awe in Imao’s work begins with the fact that it is in thick heavy brass, mostly in big forms – a life-size woman’s upper body here, her whole length there, an oversized head covering what looks like miniature versions of the U.P. oblation, oversized heads, a life-size crumpled body of a man. The three-dimensionality of it refuses that one walk past any piece of work, forcing the spectator to stand and stare, touch and feel, live with the works, if only for a bit. That one moment, after all is kept by spectator and kept in check, like that tiny note you fold as tiny as possible and keep in your wallet for good luck.
And yet, this isn’t about luck at all, what Imao talks about. In fact, if anything it is about taking the things you need to do and actually seeing them through to their painful ends, a matter-of-fact take on the lives we live as third world Pinoys in poor and difficult Philippines.
The power of knowing
The one thing that was unexpected in Imao’s work here is the fact that it chose to deal, not just with our own issues as nation, but more importantly with how these issues affect us as people.
“Fight To Learn” is a sculpture of a man, arms in front of him, fists held tight, body tense. He is wrapped and padlocked from the waist down in the head of Andres Bonifacio, painted in bright red. The power lies in the truth that we are at the point where even knowledge doesn’t come easy, and is only worthy of those who will struggle and fight for truths that are otherwise kept silent.
Meanwhile “Namamaluktot” is the sculpture of a man curled up, with arms around the legs, head bowed. On the man’s head is a piggybank slot; on his back a red slab that’s made to look like a vault. To know that it is the one who is curled up to the point of hunger and suffering, that works harder than the absent man who earns from him. That is nothing but powerful.
The power of living
The two pregnant bellies are Imao’s paean to how a woman’s life as mother is now lived.
In “Freedom” the small pregnant belly looks to be a separate piece, hinged onto the woman’s body, its two doors padlocked in the middle. The irony of course is that this is called freedom, where a woman’s body is padlocked into and by pregnancy. At the same time, the sculpture’s comfortable stance, its stand which is made to look almost like a skirt, speaks of a freedom in its mere being.
It’s a “A Lifetime of Letters” though that’s more powerful here. The woman’s pregnant body is painted lengthwise with red, which is transformed into a mailbox with the opening above the breasts, and the bellybutton as keyhole. It’s a fitting tribute to motherhood as an institution that’s all about being left behind, with the end of pregnancy as the first instance of such, the future of letter-writing probably its last and final instance.
The power of self
“Conversation” is two façades of a face, cut at the ears, attached to each other as if in line, the one facing the world in black, the one behind it in red. The power of it lies in the truth of masks and silence, what we reveal, who we actually are. The silence of it lies as well in the fact of its being a closed unit, the conversation is between your two selves, the ones that’s out there, and the one that’s only yours.
“Call” is a one-dimensional face with mouth wide open, eyeholes left hollow. It is at once an image of a man in distress, as it is of one in an act of revolt and rebellion, the scream as always an act of survival. That we scream is a measure of how alive we are, how sure of ourselves, how important it is to continue to fight.
And this is the gift that you take home with you in the face of this open ending. That Imao himself is suffering a condition that might lead to his blindness, adds another layer of power to this exhibit, as it does add another layer of humanity – and truth – to yours. Every other sculptor would be hard put to beat that, eyesight notwithstanding.