Jaime de Guzman, Self-portrait, 1968
Oil on canvas
150.2 x 141.5 cm
©National Fine Arts Collection. Photo: Bengy Toda III
On display at the 3rd Floor Northwest Hallway Gallery of the National Museum of Fine Arts

Together Apart — Art world voices that connect us now is a virtual exhibition evoking the worldwide anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We want to share our view on isolation and uncertainty with those who similarly feel stressed, isolated, and worried for their future. Works of art are also powerful reminders that we have been through previous crises but we have persevered by being creative in facing changes,” wrote Ana Maria Theresa Labrador, Deputy Director-General for Museums of the National Museum of the Philippines, in her foreword. 

Audiences will discover pieces from the British Council Collection that were selected by invited art leaders, as well as works from the National Museum’s National Fine Arts Collection selected by the same institution. 

The exhibition is divided into four themes, which are, in order: isolation, crisis as metaphor, transformations, and voices of solidarity. Each image is presented alongside explanatory text written by the curator or artist who chose the piece.

Together Apart opens with Lucian Freud’s Girl with Roses (1947/8), a painting selected by Ms. Labrador for the “portrait sitter’s stark expression, gaze averted fretfully looking at something outside of the frame.” Continued Ms. Labrador: “Her mien of uncertainty about her future is parallel to the effect of coronavirus to our lives.”

“Crisis as metaphor” includes France: The Beginning of an Advance – Typhoon Orchard (1944) by Albert Richards, which makes sense of the pandemic by comparing it to another crisis and the reflections borne from that event. As Katelijn Verstraete, British Council’s Director Arts & Creative Industries East Asia, reflected, Even though we are going through a metaphorical typhoon with many people dying, I have the hope that we can stay strong, stay interconnected like trees to support each other. Nature will always recover. Let’s be more like trees.”

Albert Richards, France: The Beginning of an Advance – Typhoon Orchard, 194
4 Watercolor, ink and gouache on paper
73.1 x 53.4 cm
Courtesy of British Council Collection

In “Transformations,” one finds Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings’ Attitude (2016), a powder-coated aluminum work showing a rainbow flag engulfed in flames. “I have been thinking deeply about how the new generation has resourcefully and expertly assumed the mantle of activism within the collective consciousness, especially in a world turned upside down by COVID-19,” said John Kenneth Paranada, founder and artistic director of the Centre for Ecologies, Sustainable Transitions, and Environmental Consciousness. 

The exhibition’s final section, “Voices of Solidarity,” reminds audiences that “times of great change and loss call for cooperation and kindness.” Landscape of the Megaliths (1934) by Paul Nash was chosen by independent curator Rafael Schacter because of the “the huge cooperative endeavor it took to create” these monuments. “These were not only ritual, public, communal sites, but spaces which took an unprecedented, unimaginable level of collaboration to be produced,” added Mr. Schacter, who is also a lecturer in anthropology and material culture at the University College London.

Paul Nash, Landscape of the Megaliths, 1934
Oil on canvas
49.5 x 73.2 cm
Courtesy British Council Collection

These pieces from the British Council Collection are complemented by works in the National Museum’s National Fine Arts Collection by artists such as Jaime De Guzman, Onib Olmedo, Napoleon Abueva, and Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi—also chosen for the relevance to the four themes. 

“This is everyone’s collection, and its narratives and contexts are continually shifting, everybody has a different perspective and personal reflection to share,” said Moira Lindsay, head of collections of the British Council.

Together Apart – Art world voices that connect us now may be viewed until November 19 on different screens (laptop, smart phones, and tablets). Allow three minutes for the exhibition to load fully. No installation is required. — PB Mirasol