A break in my schedule allowed me to swing by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, a serendipitous occurrence I took advantage of as I hardly find myself in that side of town. I so wanted to catch BISA: Potent Presences, and, as luck would have it, there I was.
The show brings together a wonderful assembly of Philippine art and artifacts, a multi-disciplinary display culled from private and institutional collections. Dr. Patrick Flores, director of the UP Vargas Museum, curated the exhibit. He has brought out gems rarely available for public viewing. That alone makes it worth the trek across town.
As the Philippine contribution to Self and Other: Portraits from Asia and Europe, a series of exhibits that originated in Japan (and of which similar variants will also run in London and Stockholm) the show explores rich examples of how interactions with European traditions affect personal representations. Admittedly, as a former colony of a European power, we have plenty of material to draw from. What makes the show extraordinary is the seamless interplay between historic and contemporary pieces through which Dr.
Flores mines this theme. He divided the exhibit into four parts: Ibayo/Afterlife, Ganap/Here and Now, Tuwina/ Time and Again, and Dayo/Far and Away. The exhibit weaves through a variety of time lines and genres; it draws complex portraits influenced from a cross-section of sources.
Come to the show to see Alfredo Esquillo Jr.’s obra maestra, Mamakinley, the best of his archival paintings. It belongs to Kim Atienza’s collection, and has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York. I credit this piece with turning me on to contemporary Philippine art. Also on view, Manuel Ocampo’s Self Portrait from 2003. His depiction of himself as
a cherub hovers over a tortured St. Jerome translating the bible. Louie Cordero recreates Volume 1 of his celebrated Nardong Tae comic strip on a long wall in one of the galleries. More to be enjoyed, an early Elmer Borlongan, Spider Boy, from 1999, and an untitled Jojo Legaspi’s portrayal of his gossiping aunts in pastel on paper. The exhibit features a realistic portrait of Ferdinand Marcos, remarkable because National Artist Ang Kiukok executed it in a style so different from his usual.
The Que family contributed several exceptional works from their collection: Juan Luna’s Self Portrait (Indios Bravos), from 1886, a terracotta Maitum head, and another self-portait, that of Roberto Feleo’s, contained within his signature virina.
Feleo also lent a number of his own pieces. Other works on loan from artists: Julie Lluch’s Philippine Gothic, Marina Cruz’s baby dresses in resin, Patricia Eustaquio’s Dear Heartburn ceramic sculpture, Gerry Tan’s Phosphorescent Salvation, stills from Jose Tence Ruiz’s performance Without It I am Invisible 1 and 2, Mark Justiniani’s chrome pieces from his jeepney series, and a beautiful Moriones mask that belongs to Brenda Fajardo.
Unusual pieces include drawings by Carlos “Botong” Francisco of costumes for a Manuel Conde film from the Ernesto and Araceli Salas collection, and two prints of torture scenes made by activists/artists during Martial Law from the Teresita Maceda collection.
The Bangko Sentral and CCP Collections provided many of the notable pieces on display, treasures like the 19th century wooden panel of the 6th station of the cross from a Bohol church. Unlike accepted Western accounts, the unknown Bohol Master painted three images of Christ imprinted onto Veronica’s shroud instead of just one. Another absolute delight, Portrait of a Girl Dressed as a Gypsy, a 1914 Jorge Pineda oil on canvas.
Take the time to examine the manipulated photographs of Malaysian artist I-Lan Yee and Jet Pascua’s video, Ilista Mo Nalang Sa Tubig. Jet’s work welcomes viewers to the exhibit’s second floor venue.
Wall texts remind us that the exhibit’s title Bisa translates to potency, efficacy, charm, enchantment, specter, and prowess. I prefer to think of it as the Filipino word for powerful and compelling. Two overused words, perhaps, but they do best describe the portraits presented to us in this show.
BISA: Potent Presences runs from 19 May to 15 July 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Blvd., Manila. Phone (632) 523-0613 or visit http://www.metmuseum.ph