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MANILA, Philippines - At once phantasmagorical and everyday, sacred and flippant, Emmanuel Garibay's solo exhibition reveals his works in various settings of a nation grappling with its faith and the icons of its power.
Astutely titled Walang Sinasanto, Garibay's collection of paintings at the Vargas Museum in UP Diliman hint at the tongue-in-cheek attitude of a people who seem to have lost their sense of enchantment for the sacred, suggesting a critical disillusionment for the myths concocted by the powers-that-be. His vigorously expressionist and impasto-filled style, often surreal but also social realist, suggest stories resonantly lived that they throb even beyond the frame.
All rendered in oil in canvas, Garibay's works allow us a reflective, if satirical, glimpses at slices of life of a people with varying stories and stances to offer. These lives look as if unassumingly placed inside a fish bowl for any observer's perusal – where we just might see an engaging parallel with our own.
In Sangdaan (1994), his vibrant style gives life to working class characters as the jeepney driver and public commuters, their shadowy profiles and elongated arms overlap with each other in the publc transport space, as if a hologram rendered in horror vacui. It is as if we are transported to the claustrophobic space of a cramped public utility vehicle and the quotidian struggles they ocassion.
Some works are more politically-themed, something the CCP Thirteen Artist Awardee has been known for. One such work is Mendiola (1996). A lone flag-raising subject dominates the space across a hazy multitude of masses, including the military and local folks. The dominant reds and yellows of the painting suggest the political blocs at play during the years of the famed Mendiola Massacre that awakened many students to the nation's social inequities – perhaps Garibay among them as an erstwhile UP student-activist.
In Komunyon (1996), we see an amusing nationalist parody of the iconic Last Supper. Here, Andres Bonifacio, the celebrated hero of a muted revolution, is Christ-like; he is at the center of a round dining table holding a bowl of rice which he is about to offer to the circle of people around him. A manang (old lady), a mother and child, and men of varying ages surround the table as a lechon is being led in as one of the victuals. The title itself is suggestive of one of the sacraments of the colonial Catholic religion. But this time, Garibay transposes the acquired religious practice with the folk tradition of bayanihan, of sharing and opening the house to feed every visitor during fiesta or feast days.
More of his recent works include Pagdating (2012), which is almost evocative of the end-of-world prediction that went abuzz via the Hollywood flick on the Mayan prediction. Here, a larger-than-life Christ is shown in a red gown but with a disfigured face, elegantly pointing to his heart. Men with roguish grins sport the traditional barong Tagalog as they surround Christ, while a couple of tiny helicopters encircle them. The subjects are framed in a lush foliage of greens, while flooding is shown at their feet, reminiscent of the Philippine tropics inundated in the aftermath of flashfloods, which have now become regular ocassions of shared disaster amidst worldwide climate change.
Similarly in Pinalikas (2007), a man carrying a child amidst a crowd of women and children indicate the relocation and disclocation of people who are forced to move places in the wake of disasters that now unfailingly visit the country.
In Alok (2012), we see a curious-looking Caucasian wearing an impish grin, as if offering the viewers the bright red apple on his hand, as a white dove is tucked in one of his pockets. Behind him is a building with imposing collonades, almost suggestive of the hegemony of Western culture. Here we see an icon of the vice of desire and temptation, as the strange white man with snake skin lures us with an offer of a piece of "high culture" – which nonetheless can never be our own.
In making sense of Garibay's works, we are not just invited to see paintings but parables from an artist who is also masterful as a storyteller of satire.
And in our act of seeing, we are also invited to a world of stories spun around a nation and its people that we know to be unmistakeably of us and our own. - Rappler.com
(Walang Sinasanto runs until March 15 at the UP Vargas Museum.)
(Rina Angela Corpus is an assistant professor of Art Studies at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines. She survived Sandy while on special detail in New York in October 2012. She practices the healing arts of shibashi-chigong and Raja Yoga meditation. Her poems have been featured in Mad Swirl, Philippine Collegian, Philippines Free Press, and Tayo Literary Magazine.)