By: Martin Genodepa
Photos from Gallery i Facebook page
WHO would have thought that the contemptuous phrase patay gutom (literally: to die of hunger or starve to death) could be title of an exhibition? But Ilonggo artists Paul John Cabanalan, Noel Elicana, and Jason Delgado had no qualms sequestering the term for their group show at Gallery i in Iloilo City.
Patay gutom is a derogatory term for people who are so poor they could die of starvation. The term must have pierced like a double-edged sword for these young artists because creatives, especially struggling ones, are referred to as starving artists and because these three admit to having experienced personal economic hardship as self-supporting students in the Iloilo Science and Technology University.But while the term is spoken with contempt, Patay Gutomthe exhibition cannot be dismissed with disdain.
Cabanalan’s Isang Kahig, Isang Tuka, the biggest work in the show, depicts the ephemerality of goodies one obtains when one is poor, eloquently asserting that the same table can have abundance and scarcity almost at the same time. His installation It is Finishedwhich makes use of a broken plate and bone with a carved profile harps on the same momentariness while further suggesting pain, emptiness and even death.Cabanalan’s mixed media works Underground Party and Seafood Galore show plates holding the poor’s staples (dried salted fish, camote etc) in careful presentation likely betrays the desire for a semblance of dignity in poverty.
Elicana’s Banat ng Buto harnesses the image of the Filipino work animal, the carabao, as a symbol of hardship. However in an attempt to escape visual cliché, he allowed bones that transmogrify into trees to thrive on its back as it treads on the ground full of spikes or thorns. This painting would not have succeeded had it not been for the animal’s human-like expression of resignation making it possibly as Elicana’s semiosis of his circumstantial helplessness. His other paintings however speak of resolve and hope. Titles like Survival Stage, The Faith and the Raging Sea, and Strong Holds seem like assertions in soliloquy as these paintings highlight gnarled roots and branches or arteries attached to a white heart.
Delgado shows his deftness as a painter with his paintings of pillow that explore, at once, photo realism and the trompe l’oeil technique.While pillows signify rest or sleep, Delgado insists through his images of pillows that the poor can never have real rest because the head or the mind gets occupied by thoughts and pressures of, physical or mental, work undone (Long and Tireless Days and The Idea was Staggered but Persistent). Thoughts about faith that makes one resigned to one’s lot can even cause discomfort and deny one of rest and quiescence (Non Resistance).
In a collaborative installation titled Everyday Elsewherethe three artists painted on metal spoons flowers, vegetables, and objects that make no doubt about the work’s affinity to still life paintings. The vanitas genre in still life paintings that was popular in the 17th century in the Netherlands comes to mind upon seeing the individually and meticulously painted spoons. While death may be the underlying theme of vanitas still life, in this installation it is death of the spirit that is at once felt upon realizing that what the hungry poorsee in the bowl of the spoon is only an image, a mirage of some sort, and not what can actually feed the overworked body. The artists are very well articulatingwhat the poor in this country experience when they have nothing to eat on their tables especially when their tables are often covered by a vinyl tablecloth printed with apples, grapes, oranges, bottles of wine.
In this exhibition Cabanalan and Elicana are emerging as comfortable with poetic composition and design, Delgado is unfolding as a straightforward visual communicator. But regardless of the trajectories of their creative skills, these three have reiterated once more that true artists will continue to create art regardless of economic circumstances. And that true artists can be personal or even autobiographical and yet still be socially significant.
Patay Gutom is open for public viewing from 27 July to 4 September 2018 at gallery i located t Unit2B 2nd Floor E. Villanueva Bldg., corner J.M. Basa and Aldeguer Streets, Iloilo City. The gallery is open from 10:00AM to 6:00PM from Tuesday to Saturday.
Martin Genodepa is a visual artist, writer, curator and teacher connected with the University of the Philippines Visayas. He is currently the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development of UP Visayas and consultant of the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA).