Text by Mara Fabella; Photos by the Ateneo Art Gallery
Disheveled, vacant, desolate, and persisting. Marciano Galang’s mixed media assemblage Cavite echoes with the sentiments of the Cavite protests of the 1960s in defense of underprivileged squatter communities. Cavite depicts one of the many snapshots of Philippine history within the Ateneo Art Gallery’s permanent collection. The gallery acquired Galang’s work in 1965 through the Purchase Fund set up by Fernando Zobel in an effort to expand the gallery’s collection. This 2020, Ateneo Art Gallery evokes Marciano Galang’s socially reflective work as it calls on the artists of today to respond to the current state of life under the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ateneo Art Gallery Marciano Galang Acquisition Prize sounded an open call to artists around the Philippines to submit works on paper that visually express their internal and external experiences of living through a pandemic. The call was announced in April of this year and closed in June, with 54 works selected out of a total 329 submissions. From this selection, 15 of the works will become a part of the AAG’s permanent collection and 2 will be purchased by the Embassy of Italy. Following the cancellation of this year’s Ateneo Art Awards, the MGAP is one of the programs formed by the AAG to provide financial assistance for artists that have been particularly affected by the pandemic. The 54 artists will each receive P5,000 for their work, while the artists behind the specially acquired works will be given an additional P15,000.
Many of the artists chose to reflect on the sociopolitical landscape of the crisis. In Luigi Almuena’s Buhol-buhol, he renders in mixed media a collaged composition of images that sums up the Filipino’s experience these past few months—garbage trucks of relief goods, meager meals, hand sanitizers, PPE-clad men, and bullets. Almena’s bright colors and dynamic forms belie the sinister and bleak undertones of the work. Bayani Galera focuses on the insubstantial reality of online schooling in Distansyang pag-aaral sa parihabang gamit (1), where gadget screens show nothing but eerily empty classroom chairs.
A common visual motif among the works is hands. Hands have come to represent many things during this crisis—from fear due to viral spread, to longing, as many struggle with the lack of physical interaction. In We’re All in This Together, Catherine Salazar uses grasping hands to symbolize the tenuous nature of the work’s very title in relation to the current situation. Salazar turns what should be a proud symbol of solidarity into a weak and crumpled promise. In 20 Seconds (Wash, Rinse, Repeat), Corrine Garcia repeatedly depicts handwashing in an almost grid-like pattern to illustrate how tiresome and even alienating this daily ritual has now become.
Paper as an artistic ground has the magnetic quality of encouraging unfiltered introspection. Yeo Kaa makes full use of this in Anong Araw Na, where he puts into words the shared frustration of many in quarantine, wherein each day of the week begins to lose its significance and all the days seem to merge together incoherently. Jonathan Benitez and Raphael Carloto portray the disorganized state of one’s physical and mental space while being confined, in their works The Mind in Isolation and The Place All Over the Place.
As with Marciano Galang’s Cavite, the 54 works express a collective feeling of dissent. Dissent against the current situation that has left many Filipinos fearful, desperate, and alienated. At the same time, these works produced while in lockdown show the resilient nature of artists, who, despite being disconnected from their social environments, are still able to capture the shared experience of the global population.
The 54 selected works for the Maricano Galang Acquisition Prize will be shown by the Ateneo Art Gallery in an exhibit tentatively scheduled this November.