This Ayala Museum exhibit brings Filipino realities to light

Tedrick Yau
This Ayala Museum exhibit brings Filipino realities to light
Rodel Tapaya's 'Urban Labyrinth' is all kinds of beautiful and disturbing

Hailing from the slums, multi-awarded international artist Rodel Tapaya offers a glimpse of his humble beginnings and the many stories that fascinated him. On display until April 15 at the Ayala Museum is Tapaya’s latest exhibit entitled “Urban Labyrinth.” Here, Tapaya highlights the depth of both his imagination and skill in different mediums.

The Comedy, Parody and Tragedy by Rodel Tapaya

Divided into different themes and styles, the exhibit’s first set of images is a spin-off from his show 12 years ago entitled “Looban.” In this set, he thought of revisiting his interest in portraying the complexities of informal settlers in Manila. These are considered as his loose paintings, and show smoother brush strokes and blending of color. 

The scenes are on point when it comes to depicting the many realities and the twists and turns of slum areas. “The Comedy, Parody, and Tragedy,” his largest work in the exhibit, depicts the slums’ daily life, with chaos, drunkards, and gangs. The painting also depicts people dressed in different costumes like that of a comedy or Moro-moro. Tapaya believes that the interest of Filipinos in telenovelas is due to their imagination and belief that anyone can portray anyone they wish – even the role of a king or queen. In “The Market Chaos,” he shows that people not only go to the market to buy things for the home, but also to know about the latest gossip.

'Aswangs Enter the City' by Rodel Tapaya

Tapaya’s more prominent works dwell on his fascination with local folktales. The images in this other series are more straightforward and vivid. Still depicting contemporary realities, “Instant Gratification” was inspired by Jose Rizal’s short story, “The Tortoise and the Monkey.” In the story, a monkey and a tortoise must choose which part of a banana tree to take. In the end, the monkey takes the top part with all the fruits, while the turtle decides to take the lower part of the tree, where the roots are. The story reflects the Filipino mentality and the eagerness to acquire fleeting and instant rewards instead of taking a steady or long-term path to success. 

Strikingly poignant, “Aswangs Enter the City” shows the play of power in society. Humans dressed in police uniform drink the sap of the banana tree to transform and gain hideously strong power. Deer and other defenseless animals portray the weaker beings that are victims of atrocities. These works are an allegory for the extrajudicial killings that plague the country.

Pintakasi (left) and Five Months (right), both works under glass

Paintings under glass show a different process to Tapaya’s art. He uses plexiglass and heats it to create a 3-dimensional effect. Unlike painting on a canvas, where colors can be mixed and blended, the colors seen in these next pieces are initially painted on the glass. It is a more difficult process to complete, since Tapaya had to do everything in reverse, while checking every now and again to make sure that the final image came out right. He shared that even his signature was written in reverse. 

Barbershop Gossip by Rodel Tapaya

Tapaya’s take on multi-media art tells the story of the country’s overseas Filipino workers (OFW). The stop motion animation shows OFWs as manananggals who leave the lower part of their bodies at home, while the top parts fly abroad to work. Even if they leave a part of themselves with their family, life does not stay the same and their being is unwillingly disconnected.

Despite his global acclaim, these pieces continue to reflect Tapaya’s Filipino identity. They’re not only a visual feast for art enthusiasts, but also shed light on the country’s social situation . – 

Rodel Tapaya: Urban Labyrinth runs until April 15 at the Ayala Museum. For more information visit

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