When Apolinario Mabini drafted the Malolos Constitution, he included a treatise outlining ten points which he felt incumbent upon every freedom-loving Filipino to hold dear. With The True Decalogue, Mabini called upon his countrymen to love and honor God and country above themselves, to continually strive for the nation’s independence, to treat each other as brothers, to make sure that they only allow leaders who have been duly-elected to rule over them.
As Mabini’s truisms still resonate today, especially relevant in these times of election fever, CANVAS (Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development) collaborated with ten visual artists from the Salingpusa group to interpret each of Mabini’s commandments. The paintings had been available online to be printed as posters that reminded viewers to vote wisely. This exhibit, Dekalogo, at the UP Vargas Museum, allows us to see the original pieces alongside the text from which they were based.
Working with Mabini’s words must have felt like treading on sacred ground. I thought that the challenge for the artists lay in getting their messages across without pandering to the usual love of country displays or resorting to too much drama. In that respect, only Elmer Borlongan and Jose John Santos III did not disappoint. We seem almost programmed to look at the works of these two with the reverence accorded to their stature in the contemporary art world. But when you encounter their pieces produced just as the ones in this show, you understand why both stay on top of the heap.
With Kapit Bisig, you get the gritty Emong, a throwback to his days of documenting the seamier, less idyllic sights of the city. As he explains via the exhibit notes, the idea of symbolizing unity through an impenetrable circle of linked arms came to him in a dream. I loved the colors he chose to work with, bright purple against a deep red backdrop. This shade of purple that he applied on the shirts of the women represents the feminist group, Gabriela.
John presents a quiet piece that delivers maximum impact. We encounter what seems to be a double portrait of Mabini in No Trespassing. His two faces, painted from stock images out of a history book, have been enclosed inside actual frames embedded on the main painting. John depicts Mabini’s public persona as crowned by a halo; he is the hero who we expect to do nothing but good. The private Mabini stays hidden behind closed doors, a sign warning us to stay away. What makes this piece is the precise, deliberate rendition of the incidentals around the faces of Mabini: the wooden slats of the door, the trompe l’oeil frame with its traces of packing tape, the exact replica of the No Trespassing sign.
The ten pieces of Dekalogo hang in the museum’s main lobby. Another CANVAS initiative, The Looking For Juan Outdoor Banner Project: Everyday Filipino Heroes, takes the adjacent space. For this, selected artists depict their choices of ordinary citizens who they feel should be honored as heroes. These paintings have been transformed into banners that decorate the light posts around the UP Oval. As I couldn’t possibly document all of them, I chose to photograph those that caught my eye.
This exhibit also included a few sculptures. I loved Joel Alonday’s Monumento for its quiet majesty. It actually seemed out of place in the sea of paintings. Perhaps the next project should be an all sculpture show?
Kudos to CANVAS for coming up with another innovative undertaking. The more accessible art becomes, the more we understand its place in our daily lives.
Dekalogo with works by Elmer Borlongan, Karen Flores, Emmanuel Garibay, Ferdie Montemayor, Neil Manalo, Jim Orencio, Anthony Palomo, Jose John Santos III, Tammy Tan, Cris Villanueva runs until 31 May 2010 at the UP Vargas Museum, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. For more information visit http://www.canvas.ph