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Translucent, transcendent

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Neal Oshima and the transformative power of light


How does one even begin to explain the work of Neal Oshima? His heritage is certainly a factor in the breadth and variety of his visual references: Born Japanese in New York, then moving to California, Seattle, Tokyo, Manila, and Hawaii. His career is marked by sojourns to several nations that somehow always lead him back to the Philippines.

Art Fair Philippines 2018 is highlighting the work of Mr. Oshima through his new series Kin, which pays tribute to Philippine tribes and indigenous traditions. Kin will be presented at the inaugural edition of the fair’s new section, ArtFairPH/Photo (see sidebar), alongside the work of documentary photographers in an exhibition called Provocations, which Mr. Oshima co-curated with Angel Velasco Shaw.

Mr. Oshima’s career runs the gamut from commercial photography for clients like Coke and Pepsi to fine art projects shown in galleries such as Sepia International Gallery in New York City. He’s experimented with calotypes, cyanotypes, and other photographic processes. The work Mr. Oshima has done in the Philippines captures all facets of society: from the pains of urban poor life in his series Iskwater to the upper echelons of society in his series capturing the clothes of fashion designer Salvacion “Slim” Lim Higgins. Either way, he says: “I prefer images that the viewer has to complete.”

There’s an evident attachment to food, as seen in his works on Philippine panaderias, ASEAN food, his exhibition Pagkaing Filipino, as well as the images he shot for the cookbooks Philippine Cuisine: A Nation’s Heritage, Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine, Inside the Southeast Asian Kitchen: Foodlore and Flavors. A series on winemaking in France communicates the long journey from vine to bottle, and how it is the collective result of years of patience and hard work.

“I love to take photographs of food,” Mr. Oshima said, “I’ve gotten involved in processes like craft brewing (beer and sake), fermentation (pickles, kefir and cheese making) and yeast (sourdough bread, koji), partly because I missed the handwork that used to accompany analog photography, film processing, printing in the darkroom, etc.”

He added: “I am attracted by the idea of transformation that these processes encompass.”

Neal Oshima
A work from Neal Oshima’s Kin, an exhibition that brings Austronesians into focus. Image courtesy of the artist.

Meanwhile, his Barot/Saya series explores qualities of translucence in the fabric, allowing the viewer to imagine the women the garments cover, as well as admire the fineness of the fabric. Another series on ancestral houses in the Philippines shows them as bare and empty structures fighting against time. His preoccupations reveal his academic leanings: Mr. Oshima has a background in anthropology and prehistory.

On seeking to explore what is physically vague, the wispy and the ghostly, Mr. Oshima said: “I guess I like the idea that it’s not all about surfaces, that there is something lurking underneath. I’m attracted to the translucent and transcendent; it’s probably light.” In making the physical transcendent, even spiritual, one can conjecture that Mr. Oshima lends a sense of immortality to objects. – Joseph L. Garcia 


Sidebar |  ArtFairPH/Photo

Thirteen thousand square meters of art. The sixth edition of Art Fair Philippines, to be held at The Link carpark building in Makati City, features more than 51 galleries exhibiting pieces in a four-day art extravaganza from March 1 to 4.

Neal oshima
Kawayan de Guia

A new section called ArtFairPH/Photo, presented by Swiss private bank Julius Baer, will feature the works of photographer Neal Oshima, as well as the works of Filipino-Catalan photographer Eduardo Masferre, to be organized by 1335 Mabini. From 1934 to 1956, Masferre recorded in images the way of life of indigenous people of the Cordillera Mountains such as the Bontok, Kankana-ey, Kalinga, Gaddang, and Ifugao. These will be shown alongside an exhibit co-curated by Mr. Oshima and Angel Velasco Shaw called Provocations, showing off the work of emerging documentary photographers.

“With the interesting selection and body of works that will be presented in the inaugural year of ArtFairPH/Photo, we are excited to see how photography will continue to find its place in our local art scene,” said Lisa Periquet, who co-founded the fair with Trickie Lopa and Dindin Araneta, in a press release.

The clamor for 13,000 square meters of space was anticipated perhaps, by the large volume of visitors last year: 40,000 people. Said Ms. Lopa: “We’ve seen how the interest in Philippine contemporary art has grown. Our move to secure a bigger space and oversee access to the fair will allow us to enhance the viewing experience of our visitors and help ensure that artwork can be properly appreciated.”