A big and important show will be staged this month in one of the most expansive art spaces in the country. On May 30, the exhibition called A History of Struggle: Philippine Art Remembers 1521 organized will open at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo. Curated by Patrick Flores, the show is a response to the contexts surrounding the commemoration of the 500 years of the first circumnavigation of the world through the works of Philippine contemporary artists.
The exhibition threads through simultaneously local and global events such as Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage, the triumph of Lapu-Lapu, and the first Catholic Mass. Recalling these historical moments serves as an opportunity for the artists to interpret the implications of a fraught history in the present pandemic and the contemporary reflections evoked by it. The works explore social criticism, allegory, counter-history, alternative mythology, and other visual strategies, with artists offering diverse responses.
The exhibition aims to rethink ideas of discovery, conquest, and conversion in light of the meeting between the Spanish fleet of Magellan and the valiant inhabitants of the Visayas. Imelda Cajipe-Endaya’s work forwards a “pro-Malay prehistory” that rewrites the history of Christianity by tracing it to missionaries who sailed with traders during the Srivijaya and Madjapahit era.
For her part, Lee Paje proposes an “alternative myth of the first encounter of our ancestors with the colonizers,” which for her “shaped the patriarchal society we live in today.”
From his unique perspective, Norberto Roldan processes ideas of distance not only in relation to the vast seas that the circumnavigation of the world had crossed but also in terms of the distance between “colonial faith and the indigenous belief system.”
Some works reconfigure the intellectual framework from which this history is seen. Kidlat Tahimik revises it by citing the figure of Enrique de Malacca, Magellan’s Malay slave, as the main protagonist of the circumnavigation of the earth.
Renz Baluyot and Iggy Rodriguez, on the other hand, portray this arrival from the vantage point of the local people: Rodriguez focuses on the fleet as an “ominous presence,” while Baluyot envisions the seascape of Homonhon as the inaugural scene of a protracted struggle.
Rounding out the rewriting and rethinking of history are alternative and speculative histories in the contributions of Dex Fernandez and Ernest Concepcion. Fernandez depicts “a 500-year-old hybrid sacred monster [that] inhabits every Catholic Filipino” conceived in the institution of Catholicism by the Spanish conquerors. Concepcion harnesses fantasy to speak of parallel earths, shamans, and “supernatural celestial god-beings” and a history of conquest that spans multiple space-time continua and a multiverse.
The sensibilities and sources of the artists included in this exhibition vary and embody a wide range of commitments. A History of Struggle enlivens this diversity to cast postcolonial Philippine history more decisively and translate this history to insightful artistic form.
The rest of the participating artists include Ambie Abaño, Alfredo Esquillo, Allan Balisi, Antipas Delotavo, Anton Del Castillo, Arturo Sanchez, Jr., Charlie Co, Dex Fernandez, Dexter Sy, Doktor Karayom, Emmanuel Garibay, Ernest Concepcion, Julie Lluch, Kawayan De Guia, Leeroy New, Leonard Aguinaldo, Marcel Antonio, Paolo Icasas, Roberto Feleo, Rodel Tapaya, Rodney Yap, Romulo Galicano, Ronson Culibrina, and Victor Balanon.
The exhibition will close on August 8, 2021.