Cue From Life Itself: Filipino Artists Transform the Everyday

Curated by art historian and scholar Patrick D. Flores
Galeriya Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, White Cube Gallery, METLab

Working in an ecology of intense variations, a homeland of exceptional migrations, and a social milieu shaped by dense translations across a history of successive colonialisms, Filipino artists have bred an instinct and an intelligence of practical politics. It is animated by the desire to prevail and the ethical commitment to do what is right for a place often visited by calamity and betrayed by governments. Surely, scarcity is an impulse, though not the sole impetus. To make do and dream up is both article of faith and everyday errand. What works is what works.

The title of the exhibition is lifted from the monograph of Brenda Fajardo, a creative agent of broad sympathies: artist, mentor, assembler, world maker, farmer who works in the mingling fields of theater, painting, academe, and civil society. In the early eighties, she wrote a monograph for the Philippine Educational Theater Association titled Aesthetics of Poverty in which she speaks of how the “attrition of material” indexes an aesthetic and a lifeworld. The “ethical” is central in this discourse. As Fajardo asks: “How can an artist claim to be socially responsible when he mounts high-cost productions during times of deprivation?” Her idea of the aesthetics of poverty begins with the artist’s responsiveness to an encompassing but transformable world. Such attentiveness leads the artist to “choose deliberately particular nuances and tones of color and texture that would express the qualities” to be perceived in the world: “economic deprivation, cultural pollution, senseless violence.” In doing so, “a new art” emerges. Fajardo marks this as “authentic, because it expresses life which happens to be poor.”

This is how an aesthetics of poverty takes root and ultimately “implies… a sense of beauty which belongs to people who live in a condition of material deprivation. There are concepts of color, line, space, texture, and rhythm and movement that are conditioned by particular natural, cultural, and social environments. It is a result of a particular quality of life that is conditioned by its reality.” Such a quality pertains to the viewer’s reception and the artist’s faculty: “We began to capture the patina of time and became more sensitive to the aesthetic qualities of our materials thereby increasing our powers of expression.”

This exhibition materializes the intuition and the insight honed in the critical awareness of poverty, its deep structure and the chance of it transfiguration in a range of efforts and inspirations, all prompted by the hope that to make do and to dream up is to transform the everyday in textile or film gathered here and there; wood that becomes church or rag that turns into house; stainless steel, photocopy, and tarpaulin that finally morph into eccentric sound and elusive image.

Featured artists: Poklong Anading, Kris Ardeña, Yason Banal, Santiago Bose, Brenda Fajardo, Alma Quinto, Jose Tence Ruiz, Lirio Salvador, and Mark Salvatus.