THE WINNERS of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artists awards this year demonstrated that they’re not only concerned with their aesthetics, but also with what is happening in reality. The recipients have responded to the problems of our times: extrajudicial killings, social injustices, the oppressed’s endless plight, and fake news.
Artist Ronald Achacoso, the curator of the 13 Artists’ ongoing exhibition, called the winners as the “new vanguards of arts that explore the periphery of our sociocultural landscape.”
The winners are Eisa Jocson, Zeus Bascon, Raffy T. Napay, Cian Dayrit, Janos Delacruz, Doktor Karayom, Carlo Gabuco, Bea Camacho, Dina Gadia, Guerredro Z. Habulan, Archie Oclos, Lynyrd Paras, and Shireen Seno.
The lone photographer in the group, Carlo Gabuco’s works, made with archival pigment ink on photo paper, feature the dark realities that are happening on the streets in light of the administration’s war on illegal drugs. His photographs are complemented by eight video installations in the exhibit. He also showed pieces focusing on extra-judicial killings or EJKs at this year’s Art Fair Philippines.
Another winner who focuses on current reality is Bea Camacho. Her works on view are also a reflection of reality vis-a-vis the spread of fake news and post-truth. Using copies of The Philippine Star newspaper, which has the tag line “The Truth Shall Prevail,” Ms. Camacho questioned our perception of our memories. A statement written on the gallery wall above a pile of copies of the Philippine Star, said: “It is about records and recording. It is about the malleability of memory. The nature of remembering and forgetting.”
Remembering is also at the heart of the works of Archie Oclos and Cian Dayrit, who are remembering the forgotten, the lost, and the least members our society.
Both born in 1989 — the youngest awardees in the group — Mssrs. Oclos and Dayrit depict on their canvases the social reality of the widening inequality between the poor and the rich.
Mr. Oclos is a street artist whose murals tackle perennial sociopolitical problems. His murals are seen in public sites in Tarlac, Cavite, Quezon City, and Binondo, Manila.
For the 13 Artists exhibition, he used NFA rice sacks as his canvases on which he drew students, activists, and rice farmers. Although the power struggles between the haves and the have-nots are nothing new, Mr. Oclos’ works became a strong timely statement because two days after the exhibition opened on Oct. 18, nine farmers in a Negros Occidental hacienda were massacred for tilling the land that was supposed to be their’s.
Farmers and indigenous peoples (IPs) are also the subjects of Mr. Dayrit’s works.
The artist, who uses cartography as one of his media, has been conducting workshops in small communities in Mindanao and Luzon, and few in Visayas since 2017 as part of his art practice. The idea behind his project is to give them a platform for their voices to be heard.
In one of his maps, he traced the words “capitalism,” “feudalism,” “neoliberal policies,” and “imperialism hacienda system” as parts of the systemic historical oppression in the Philippines.
“The essence is the idea of mapping as a form of resistance, or, if not, an assertion of rights or the rethinking of sense of being. The notion of counter mapping, or counter cartography, is that you’re countering the traditional canons of practice of cartography where it is usually authored by the states, from a seat of power.
“But in the workshops I do, the people who participate are the ones who author the maps and do their own representation in a space. In a way, it’s not something new. It’s been done by different cultures. Counter-cartography as a practice has also been done in other places precisely as form of resistance and survival. In my case, as a visual artist, I am trying to merge my platform and the practice,” he said.
His works in the exhibition are mostly maps drawn by the farmers and the IPs which contain texts and slogans. The artist said the maps could be overloaded with information, but he’s taking this both as a challenge and an invitation. “It’s dense in information. You present small drawings that require an intimate experience, I know that they are challenging as an exhibition, but in a way this is my interest: How to present the information, even if it is this dense. At the moment, let it be dense — it’s challenging people to give time and ask ‘what is this artist doing?’,” he said in a mix of english and the vernacular.
He said he asked the permission of the farmers, the workers, and the IPs he’s worked with before using their maps.
The writing in the maps are cries about social injustice, inequality, the lack of opportunities and rights of people forgotten and relegated to the peripheries.
The show’s curator, Mr. Achacoso said in his notes: “Imbibing the spirit of the times and pouring their proverbial sweat, blood, and tears on their canvas, they (the artists) function as society’s relief valves, attuned to its pressure points. Wrestling with contemporary fears and anxieties, our hopes and expectations, they trace the parameters of our national ethos.”
The 13 Artist Awards exhibition is on view at the Cultural Center of the Philippines until Dec. 23. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman