Beyond Brushstrokes

“Words are windows that open us to mystery. Visual art that accompanies those words deepens the colors we see and brings us even closer to the wonder of it all,” remarked Father Jose Ramon “Jett” Villarin, SJ, on his new book, Siya Nga! This is a Filipino expression of wonder, of openness to possibilities. It is an epiphany and eureka!

The book is a collection of short reflections by the author on 52 terms in the Christian faith. It is unique “crossover” collaboration between the Ateneo de Manila University president and De La Salle University Publishing House’s editor David Jonathan Y. Bayot.

“The book design of mobilizing images to elucidate — that is — to bring the light out of the reflection pieces… I envisioned the book to be one that contains images of art work by a broad range of Filipino artists.”

The canonical ones include the National Artists such as Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, Arturo Luz, with Elmer Borlongan, Justin “Tiny” Nuyda, Betsy Westendorp (whose painting is featured on the book cover) to the younger voices in the Philippine art scene.

“As curator in charge of pairing the artworks with the reflections in the book, the ‘match-making’ process is not as straightforward as I thought it would be when we began the book,” Mr. Bayot revealed.

“Firstly, I already had a good idea of the contents of the reflection pieces. Fr. Jett and I had earlier agreed on the 52 terms for the reflections.

“Secondly, I had a list of artists that I wanted to include in the book. On that list, I noted two or three of my favorite artworks from each artist — works that I thought could go very well with the reflections.

“Thirdly, as I was matching the art and the writing, I began to realize that there’s not just one way of matching the two genres, because another art piece could go as well of not better with a particular reflection. And here’s the tricky part: one time I tried to alter the original match and substitute a different art piece, the whole configuration would change,” he remarked.

“The alternation has a domino effect,” Mr. Bayot said.

“The basis of the matching is a lot subjective. I would say that the pairing is based on my interpretation of the artwork vis-à-vis the refection. It’s an interpretation that I can surely justify or defend.

“My matching of Erwin Mallari’s Offline with ‘Incarnation’ is based on my understanding of what Fr. Jett is trying to explain about the incarnation of Christ. Erwin’s work has indeed captured the excruciating pain suffered by God as He incarnated himself to be one of us… Its about time readers get a more thoughtful and ‘unusual’ image of incarnation: It’s in essence a Godhead giving up His divinity and undergoing that the Jesuit philosopher and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called an ‘involution’ — a reduction of essence on God’s part, to the point that He became like the other boy in the painting, as they float together through the murky waters of life, on an improvised boat made of Styrofoam… The Styrofoam is obviously a piece of garbage… God dwelling in garbage among more garbage — that should compel the readers to have a more defamilarizing view of the incarnation.

“The painting In Solitude and the reflection on ‘Weight’ — the two pieces are a good match because while the painting shows through its color, texture, and subject of depiction of the human experience of the heaviness of life with life, the art piece also highlights the graceful buoyancy exemplified by the boats — a spiritual buoyancy once could capture through a certain mindfulness of God’s grace and love in one’s life,” Mr. Bayot said.

There’s more that one way of pairing the reflection and the art. The book features 49 artists and 74 artworks. There is a portion of 15 images that allows the reader to match reflections with art.

“The newness of God will never grow old and the bigness of his love… never grow small,” Fr. Villarin stated.

The book enlightens the mind and inspires the spirit. The artworks are visually stunning.

The book launch for Siya Nga! will be held on Jan. 28, 4 p.m., at the Verdure, Henry Sy, Sr. Hall, De La Salle University, Manila. For more information, contact Joanne Castanares at 8523-4281 or via e-mail at


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.