The title above is the original title of my article but it was published in The Philippine Star as "Have Our Artists Found the Filipino Soul?" on 29 May 2006, pages G-1 and G-3.
Have Our Artists Found the Filipino Soul?
By Clarissa Chikiamco
Winner, Lifestyle Journalism Awards 2006 sponsored by Philippine Star, Stores Specialists, Inc. and HSBC.
Clarissa Chikiamco is a 2005 magna cum laude graduate of Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Major in Art Management, Minor in History degree. She co-founded Visual Pond, a non-profit organization committed to the visual arts. She is organizing and curating the End Frame Video Art Project, the first video art festival in the
One of the greatest issues to arise in Philippine art is the search for its national identity. What, in Philippine art, is Filipino? It is a tiring debate and one that was particularly hot in the 60’s and 70’s when art was strongly seen as an instrument in shaping national consciousness. Despite an agreement that good art is good art no matter what its context, the issue still haunts those of us who work in the art scene today, particularly in launching Philippine art into an international platform, where in a near borderless world one tries to find the thin lines which delineate one culture from the next.
More than anything else, subject matter instantly leaps to mind. The golden sunlight streaming down on pastoral fields where a dalagang bukid stands smiling – the paintings of Fernando Amorsolo were, and actually still are, seen as the epitome of the Filipino soul in art. While I respect Amorsolo, having him as the bastion of the Filipino in Philippine art as many people uphold him to be treads on dangerous ground. Still decades later, we have yet to loosen this stiff fixation for genre. Contests and calendars still largely revolve around this theme and opportunist artists chug out one farm scene after another. This bastion is unfortunately being bastardized. I’d like to think too that the Filipino soul, especially in these modern times, encompasses more than farming, fishery or beautiful maidens bathing in the river.
Abroad, the taste for the exotic seems alive and well if the email I received late last year is any indication. A
This insistence to create something relevant to one’s nationality is not unique to the
This brings to the fore an issue that must be reckoned with in the search for the Filipino identity in art: the Filipino expatriate. Some of our artists are part of the ten percent of the Philippine population who now live abroad, raising even more questions on art’s Filipino soul. If an artist who has Filipino blood was raised abroad and studied abroad but tackles Filipino issues – then is his art Filipino? Or how about the international artist with Filipino blood who was raised in the Philippines but left to practice abroad with no obvious Filipino qualities in his or her work? Then there are the artists with no Filipino blood at all who reside and practice in the
With subject matter being too constricting, one tries to find the Filipino identity through style: there is the baroque mentality, the love of color and the affinity for graceful and decorative lines. While these are principally agreed upon as qualities that have continually surfaced on paintings done by Filipino artists, one has to ask how applicable are they when dealing with different media? Nowadays, contemporary art deals with performance, installation, video and sound and certainly, there haven’t been enough of these works to see a common quality or to form a judgment on a Filipino identity.
Putting aside art that directly tackles a Filipino issue or frames it within a Filipino setting, sometimes trying to find the Filipino in certain Philippine art is like trying to milk a cow when the cow isn’t a cow after all. One can have some highfalutin explanation on why a foreign-looking Philippine painting smacks of Filipino postcolonialism or what not and occasionally these things are right. However, also intermittently, they are overreaching. With so many international influences and the variety of media the artist can explore that are not endemic to the country, it should surprise no one that – dare I say it? – sometimes there might not be much Filipino to find in contemporary Philippine art.
One of my favorite artists, Lee Aguinaldo has been said not to care if his paintings could be deemed as Filipino because his primary concern is ensuring that a painting is well-made. I think this is where all the best artists take off from as Filipinos are known for their art all over the world, not because of the art’s Filipino style or Filipino subject matter, but because of its creativity and world-class excellence that echoes not just nationally but universally.
So have our artists found the Filipino soul? I can’t say no and I can’t say yes but, with all the issues which may never be resolved, I think the answer will always have to be the definite maybe.