In the series of paintings which he calls Tragicomedy, Alfredo Esquillo Jr. displays his more surrealist bent. For these works, he makes repeated use of an image he christens as the wheelchair-jeepney. A product of his imagination, he paints this as a jeepney’s dashboard without an engine. Instead, the large wheels of the wheelchair appear to mechanically power the hybrid vehicle. Through the years, Esqui has employed this in several of his pieces: on its own in Third World, pushed around in circles by several buffoons in Survivor, carrying a load of cartons in Lipat-Bahay. He uses the wheelchair-jeepney as a device to underscore the hobbled and disabled state we Pinoys find ourselves unable to shake off, the legacy of repeated missteps by our political leadership. Another conveyance that we see repeatedly in his tragicomedies is the double-faced jeepney, two jeepney dashboards facing opposite directions. Esqui has used this as a metaphor for the Philippines’ lack of progress. The state has two drivers pulling it in opposite directions.
As Esqui forays into kinetic sculpture with Bato Bato Sa Langit, his exhibit now on view at SLab, he takes these vehicles out of his canvases, and transforms them into almost life-sized, multi-dimensional, mixed media contraptions. Alab Ng Puso is a wheelchair-jeepney, painted fiery red. Kabilaan is a two-faced jeepney. While with Penitente, he assembles a wheelchair-pedicab that flagellates its driver as he pedals forward. Made primarily with chrome, each piece has several details seen only on closer inspection. Esqui’s self-portrait hides beneath Alab ng Puso’s grille. Lift up the hood and you see the vehicle’s heart. When Kabilaan moves to and fro, the two mini lechons atop each of its two hoods turn as they roast over fake flames.
Three large-scale painted works, which may be classified as new additions to his Archival series, hang on the gallery’s walls. For these, Esqui manipulates images from found historical photographs while retaining their sepia tones. He finishes these off with a fine layer of sawdust. B. I. Joe and Barangay Yosi , painted on canvas, make commentaries on the colonialization of indigeneous Filipinos via their smoking habits.
For the triptych Libing At Sakla, Esqui reverts to the use of another favorite ground, that of rubber. He adopts three slightly varying versions of a photograph that shows a group standing beside freshly-dug earth. Look closely at the crowd gathered around the grave, and notice that for each panel, the subjects on the extreme right
differ. The first panel uses the likeness of Zaldy Ampatuan (accused mastermind of the Maguindanao massacre) on one of the men donning a straw hat. For the middle panel, the face has changed to that of Emilio Aguinaldo. In the last panel, underneath two parasols, stand Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. The piece speaks of grand betrayals, and for Esqui, this cast of characters made the ultimate betrayals to public trust. He also references Sakla, the Spanish tarot card game played during funeral wakes, to describe the panels (Haring Bastos, Haring Espada, Haring Oros). An assemblage of skeleton parts cast from resin, along with metal objects from the Sakla card symbols, fill the bottom portion of all three panels.
Fifteen years since Esqui first made his impact in the art scene via his ASEAN Art Awards Grand Prize, he has not let up. He continues to give us art culled from episodes in our history, our religious beliefs, our socio-political concerns. In other words, art that makes us think.
Bato Bato Sa Langit, Alfredo Esquillo Jr., runs from 9 June to 3 July at SLab, 2F YMC Bldg 2, 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City. Phone (632)816-0044 or visit http://www.alfredoesquillo.com or visit http://www.slab.silverlensphoto.com
Thank you to Marya Salang of Tin-Aw Arts Management for the video of the opening night’s performance.