History meets art

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Photos by Michelle Anne P. Soliman and Alicia A. Herrera

The first Manila Biennale — which has the theme “Open City,” referencing the events of World War II in its venue, Intramuros in Manila — focuses on memories and stories, on history and culture. Wandering through the narrow streets of the walled city, viewing the various installations and exhibits that make up the arts festival, one gets a reminder of who we were then and who we are today. Plaza Roma, the San Ignacio Mission House, and Baluarte de San Diego, in particular, are not to be missed, although there is art scattered throughout. Here are some of the works to note as the festival enters its last two weeks. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

Procesion los Camareros (Procession of the Caretakers)

Procesion los Camareros (Procession of the Caretakers) by Jason Dy, SJ
A series of 15 light boxes encircle the center of the newly rebuilt but still unfinished San Ignacio Church, each corresponding to one of the Stations of the Cross. Curator Alice Sarmiento explains that the artist, Fr. Jason Dy, “was interested in the way people practice their faith” and the “way religion functions within communities.” Fr. Dy worked with Intramuros pedicab drivers who each personalized glass reliquary-style boxes with sentimental objects which serve as a representation of history and religion (one of the boxes contains a Koran). The priest then photographed the drivers’ creations, mounted the resulting images in light boxes which were then set up in the church. Ms. Sarmiento noted that part of the project was to have the pedicab canopies redesigned with prints of the San Ignacio Church’s interior and the prewar Intramuros landscape. The original glass boxes have been mounted in the pedicabs, making this in a sense a traveling exhibit as the drivers take their passengers around the walled city.

Red Slide

Red Slide by Aigars Bikse
The interactive sculpture by Latvian artist Aigars Bikse was created in 2012 for the Rauma Biennial Balticum, Finland under the theme of human nature, focusing on the essence of the human mind. A working slide that depicts a wounded soldier done in the “Soviet monument style,” the polyurethane slide was repainted pink for the Manila Biennale. Curator Con Cabrera explained that the image depicts “the duality of the soldier’s persona” which can either be an aggressor or protector — evident as children play around and with the sculpture.


WatAwat by Elnora Ebillo
Documentarian Elnora Ebillo dramatizes the involvement of women in the Philippine Revolution against Spain by projecting images of women sewing the various Philippine flags onto a series of sinamay curtains in a darkened room.

Record of the Bombing

Record of the Bombing by Hikaru Fujii
A Japanese World War 2 memorial hall had its funding cut when it was found to rather tell an ambiguous narrative about war atrocities. This was the inspiration for this work by Japanese artist Hikaru Fujii — originally displayed at the Museum for Contemporary Art in Tokyo. The work features a number of exhibit vitrines, empty except for the labels identifying the missing artifacts. A video of Japanese WW2 survivors gives validity to the terrors and hardships of the war.

Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House

Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House by Alwin Reamillo
First set up in nearby Fort Santiago, the house was transported bayanihan-style to Plaza Roma with the help of soldiers, festival staff, and guests on Saturday, Feb. 17. The bamboo house made the trip in about 20 minutes on the shoulders of the volunteers who faced the challenge of avoiding the low hanging cables across Gen. Luna St. Built with corrugated iron panels and bamboo, and decorated with strings of bits and bobs, chimes hand-made by children, and pinwheels made of recycled materials, the house was first exhibited at the 2015 Sydney Festival. “It’s a form of creative bayanihan (mutual cooperation by a community) and creative social structure,” said its creator, Alwin Reamillo, who noted that while bayanihan is usually practiced in the provinces, it may also be done in the city. Asked about the possible effect of adverse weather on the house, Mr. Reamillo noted the community’s cooperation: “Masisira ’yan eventually pero, aayusin natin ulit (It will break eventually, but we will fix it again.)”

Various signs made of tarpaulin and wood by Kolown
As one walks around the walled city, one will come across multiple tongue-in-cheek “historical” signs created by Kolown, an anonymous artist collective based in Cebu. The signs give fake information about the city and its history in a very straightforward manner. This includes the role of Voltes V in Fort Santiago and the role of the Intramuros walls in beauty routines. The signs all include links that can be accessed by smartphones which provide a different dimension to the works.


Golgotha by Mideo Cruz
An installation made of found objects, resin, wood, and metal adapting to the given space, the piece evokes a feeling of fear. Featuring hands sticking out of the ground, surrounding horned beasts, this work — staged in a chamber that served as a prison for women during World War II — references biblical history and the sacrifices of both losers and victors.