In case you missed it: Miguel Paulo “Miggy” Borja, Kim Oliveros, and Reinier "Bembol" Dela Cruz at Art Central.
There is a revolution happening in art’s international scene; it’s nice to see the Filipinos shaping it, too.
I had about 15 minutes left till Art Central wrapped up its five-day event when I walked into Borja’s Three Minutes to Midnight-inspired Ominous exhibition - an intense elaboration of the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock with somber-heavy colours, outlined by thought-provoking strokes.
But that was on my second return to Philippine-based Vinyl on Vinyl's booth, which was found in the Rise zone of the temporary structure and introduced as one of the "15 emerging galleries from 11 different countries", hoping I didn't have to squeeze my way through smartphone-flicking throngs towards Borja's exhibition. Thankfully, I didn’t.
The crowd, by then, had dwindled to an opportunity for a casual chat with Vinyl on Vinyl's "evil genius" and a celebrated Filipina Formula 3 Racecar driver herself, Gaby Dela Merced, who broke the ice by telling me that “Borja is an artist based in Manila” (and I later found out that we have the same alma mater). I nodded to acknowledge and the rest was history.
I have a confession though. I only realised I was just talking with THE Gaby Dela Merced moments after Art Central closed its gates. So, better late than never...Hi Gaby!
By then, I had also recovered from my fangirl moment after earlier bumping into multi-awarded Filipino actor John Lloyd Cruz and Eraserheads legendary frontman Ely Buendia, at the same booth, and who were both in town for the screening of Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Reverting to Miggy’s riveting images, they “surface from the deep recesses of reality” and are associated with rawness, undisguised and “neither restrained nor devoid of its own terrors”.
The prominent young characters, with bowed heads, strewn across Borja's canvas got my attention without having to ask for it. Beyond the impasto, the gaze, I learnt, has been described as “fading light or glimmer of hope” and that it “agitates, provokes, or illuminates, but always engages”. I agree with the engaging part, the reason I went back and shared with Gaby my slight frustration for getting lost in the images.
“The artist’s (Borja) work spans the gamut of abstraction and form, and in so doing, cuts through the viewer’s understanding of human frailty and strength,” the Vinyl on Vinyl artist profile read.
Then, there’s the Makati-based three-decades-old Finale Art File, which showcased Portrait and Bloom Where We Are Planted (a mind-shaking text, thrusting me out my comfort zone, reconsidering the state of my current location), both by Oliveros, whom I’ve also read has a penchant for Japanese Geishas and the Japanese culture, all inspired by his family's business in textile importation.
And there’s the equally proactive Dela Cruz, also having been part of Art Basel Hong Kong in 2014, with As the Guilty Remarks: Family 2, 2016 in his almost tattoo-covered males and their potbellies in photorealistic paintings, which I guess had a minimal impact on me.
Well, maybe because I've been trying to get rid of my own belly so I didn't find them as attractive, except for the gingerly-designed tattoos, what Bembol is widely-admired and noted for. For some reason, the hanging stomachs also reminded me of the husbands thousands of Filipino migrant women have physically left behind in hopes of a promising future. But I can only guess.
Witnessing Filipinos be part of the more than 100 hand-picked galleries from 20 countries, in which a huge chunk was said to have hailed from more than 20 cities across Asia have a hand in "elevating Hong Kong’s status as a global art hub", evokes a huge sense of pride.
It does so, and more deeply, especially in a world city with a migrant-strong backdrop where I’ve personally struggled juggling, if not, balancing association, a sense of belonging and cultural identity.
And from a country itself where Filipinos themselves sometimes overlook or belittle their capabilities and talents, it was a sight to behold.
Featured Image: L-R: Miguel Paulo Borja's The Gardener, 2016; The Jumper, 2016; Swim (Musings of a Fish).
By JWalking, for Style by Asia