VISUAL ARTIST Hau Chiok delivered his opening speech for his exhibition Coalescences: 60 years of Hau Chiok in Fukienese.
For the approximately five minutes that the artist was talking, this writer was puzzling over what he could be saying, which brought several questions to mind: Was National Artist F. Sionil Jose right when he said that Filipino-Chinese would still pledge allegiance to China if a revolution would happen? Is Filipino-ness measured by one’s skills in speaking Filipino? Or is it measured by how much one loves the country? How do we measure something intangible?
Mr. Chiok, a second generation Filipino-Chinese, grew up in Binondo and lived there for 50 years. He was a Filipino citizen, but after he and his family moved to Canada 10 years ago, he became a Canadian citizen.
The artist can understand Tagalog but can barely speak it. “Well, if you lived in Binondo, you’ll know that you don’t need to learn Tagalog,” Sy Chiu Hua, the artist’s wife who acts as his interpreter, told BusinessWorld.
Mr. Chiok butted into our conversation, “Mahina ’yung ano ko [Tagalog].” (“My Tagalog is not good.”)
Still, he talked in Filipino about some of his paintings on view at the exhibition.
Some of his ink on paper works showed the Chinatown neighborhood he had grown up in. For example, he depicts Binondo church with a line of jeepneys, tricycles, pedicabs, and kalesas (horse-drawn carriages) waiting outside. In others he ventures outside Binondo — one painting focuses on a Carabao Festival in Bulacan; and one painting of bayanihan (neighborly cooperation) in the province shows all the past Philippine presidents, from Emilio Aguinaldo to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, carrying a nipa hut to a new location.
The exhibition features over 100 ink on paper paintings, more than half of them showing traditional Chinese themes, compositions, and style philosophy. Mr. Chiok, after all, is a trained artist from the Lingnam School of Painting, which is a modern approach to Chinese painting that marries Japanese and Western themes, techniques, and ideas. This technique that uses ink and brush showed the artist’s control of pressure and speed of his brush.
Many paintings feature flowers, fruits, and insects, and sometimes incorporate Chinese calligraphy.
The title of the exhibition, Coalescences, perfectly captures the artist’s combination of sensibilities, skills, and backgrounds.
“We stayed for a long time and we developed a love for the country. It’s immaterial to say that I grew up here for more than 50 years, I won’t love it. He painted a lot of Filipino sceneries and culture. He wanted to stress it in his speech that the three countries developed him,” said Mrs. Chiok, adding that anyone who says Filipino-Chinese are not Filipino at heart were “oversimplifying” their remarks.
“You cannot put one hat and apply it for all people,” she said. “We can only say that the places that you stay in will make you what you are. In his speech, he tried to say that ‘all the three countries nurtured me, and I derived inspiration from all the three countries’,” said Mrs. Chiok.
The husband and wife were both students of the Lingnam School of Painting where they learned brush painting and finger painting together. Four of the couple’s collaborative paintings are part of the exhibition.
“I started the painting, and he finished the composition or vice versa. We compromise. We’ve been together for so long, it’s almost unconscious na. It will come in harmony, parang work of one person,” said Mrs. Chiok.
The exhibit is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila until Jan. 15. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman