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Tattooed Males, Crosses, Penthouses

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[Photo of Pintados]Art fans in manila were in for a two-in-one treat when galleria duemila, Inc. simultaneously exhibited the creations of two acclaimed Filipino installation artists.

Pre-colonial males covered with modern symbolisms.Towering structures showing signs of decay.

At first glance, each theme may seem just a mesh of contradicting ideas, but as with many other art pieces, there’s a whole lot more in them than meets the eye.

Junyee’s Siete Pintados and Jose Tence-Ruiz’s Derelict Penthouses possess such qualities that make up their artworks’ unique charm.

Siete Pintados

Siete Pintados is part of Luis Enano “Junyee” Yee’s growing list of masterpieces. The internationally-acclaimed sculptor and installation artist has been involved in the arts since the 1960s as a researcher, curator, cartoonist, lecturer, and organizer here and abroad, while collecting many accolades along the way.

Junyee’s Siete Pintados boasts of seven life-size wood sculptures of pre-colonial Filipino males, covered with indigenous tattoos and contemporary iconographies. (Because he’s an environmentalist, he uses discarded Acacia and Santol wood for his pieces.)

The symbols embody “a collision of culture induced by uneven and transitional spheres of development within the context of Philippine society and culture,” said art critic Alice Guillermo.

“My general concept is very easy. What I’m trying to say here is that we have a good culture (but) they [colonizers] came in (when) we were very young. We were overwhelmed by their culture, but there are a lot of things we want to preserve, which is a good thing. So this is my statement. This is not (a) political (statement). It’s more of an anthropological kind of thing,” the Chinese Filipino Junyee explained.

At the middle of the exhibition floor sits a Pintado whose round eyes show through a slit on the American flag that covers its face. The Pintado is surrounded by wood chips--colored red, blue, and white--scraped off the sculpture itself.

“This is called Libag (grime),” says Junyee. “What I’m trying to say here is that tinatanggal ko ang masasamang influence ng Western. Kasi hindi naman lahat ng natatanggap natin from the Hollywood culture ay maganda, so tinatanggal ko. So pininturahan ko muna yan, tapos tinanggal ko.” (I removed the negative Western influence because not everything we get from Hollywood culture can be good. First I painted it, then I scraped it off.”)

[Photo of Pahinog]Behind Libag is Kulang sa Drum (loosely translated means “lacking in drum beats”). It is a sculpture of a boombox-wielding Pintado whose body is inked with icons of American hip hop culture. For Junyee, Kulang sa Drum represents a native culture being overwhelmed by new things.

He adds, “Here with us in the urban area, it’s okay. We have TV, but majority of the population is not aware of that. It’s a cynical way of saying that the drums from the West is kulang (lacking) because the natives mas mahilig sa drum (like to bang their drums even more).”

To the right of Kulang sa Drum is Pahinog. This sculpture is painted with tattoos worn by the indigenous people of the Mountain Province. A web of copper wires covers the sculpture from head to toe like a coccoon. The word pahinog roughly translates to something that needs ripening, and that’s what this particular Pintado says about local culture.

“It’s like enveloped by (various) influences,” says the artist, who’s a product of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.

“It’s about time that we get out of the coccoon, so it’s like waiting for just the right time.”

The first Pintado, shown in 2001 at the 7th Havana Biennale in Cuba, was also on exhibit.

Held by strings attached to the ceiling, the tattooed sculpture faces heavenward and is suspended at a 45-degree angle in mid-air.

Derelict Penthouses

At the other exhibit hall of Galleria Duemila is artist Jose Tence Ruiz’s Derelict Penthouses. It’s a fusion of paintings, sculptures, and installation art pieces.

Derelict Penthouses are made of scrap wood coated with resin attached to a canvas, and reconstructed to look like penthouses, which in modern times have become the preferred living spaces of the rich and powerful.

But Ruiz prefered to show these towering structures in a state of decay.

This is his interpretation of the unfortunate fate that has befallen both Church and State, society’s two dominant forces. He observes that the two are, just like derelict penthouses, ridden with rust and collapsing under their own weight. For the artist, their ever-conflicting views—and even the 9/11 attacks—are signs of their doom.

Aside from Derelict Penthouses, the University of Santo Tomas alumni also presented his Crux series. It is a set of alternating representations of the cross. In history, the cross has meant a lot of things to different people. It’s become a symbol of medical relief, Chiristianity, and even fascism. The Crux series is Ruiz’s commentary on society’s shifting moral standards.


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