writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What can art do in the face of global suffering?

Eeks, yes, I know I said I'd keep my blog updated regularly but errrr... o_O It's been a month since my last post!  Well, I still need to post the past Metro Home issue (the magazine is somewhere in my room...) and I already scanned the June 2007 Artscene of Preview. Will upload it this weekend! (seriously!)

I'm posting for now my recent column article on the exhibit Trauma, Interrupted. It was published yesterday in The Philippine Star, page G4. I found this exhibition particularly interesting because I've also tried to explore the links between trauma, art and healing a few years back. I did a couple of painting projects for the Philippine Children's Medical Center, cheering their Leukemia treatment room (with Splat! the painting club of Assumption College High School which I used to head) and another room with Christina Dy's painting class. More significant to me was the Art Workshop I organized for the Correctional Institute for Women and New Bilibid Prisons. My utmost thanks goes to all the people who helped in that - my parents, students from University of the Philippines who conducted the workshop for free, my friends Joanna and Renicca who facilitated at NBP and the relatives who donated money so I could buy the necessary art materials. I wish I had been able to sustain it but I was only 18 years old when I did this project. I really had to focus on my studies and
I haven't stopped being busy since! I hope that the inmates we gave the workshop to have kept on drawing...

Well, without further yakkity yak of mine, here's the article!

What can art do in the face of global suffering?
ARTICIPATION By Clarissa Chikiamco
Monday, July 16, 2007

In our third-world situation, it is not strange to encounter the charge that art is for the elite. Art is often seen as an excess and as a luxury and is the least of people’s priorities, if a priority at all. How can art be functional and what is its relevance in increasingly pressing times?

Curator Flaudette May Datuin poses this challenge in “Trauma, Interrupted,” an exhibition ongoing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines with works by artists foreign and Filipino. Raising and attempting to answer the query, “What can art do in the face of global suffering?” “Trauma, Interrupted” delves into the links between trauma, art and healing — how art can be the catalyst for people to reconcile with disturbing experiences, whether it be from grave conflict situations or personal emotional anguish.

In Terry Berkowitz’s “The Malaya Lola (Free Grandmother Project),” Terry gives face and voice to the events of Nov. 23, 1944 by photographing the still alive but aged women who survived a raid of Japanese soldiers in their village in Mapanique, Candaba, Pampanga. The close-up photographs of these women are mounted side by side in the third floor hallway stretch, making walking along it a striking and moving experience. The date of the event and the age and name of the pictured lola are posted underneath each photograph, underscoring the need to have the occasion recognized with a sense of urgency. A soundtrack that accompanies the piece also gives the lolas the chance to be heard. Asides from calling attention to the issue, the work is also imbued with a sense of hope. As Terry says, “Learning about the nightmare these women lived through and how they were able to continue on, get married (in most cases) and raise families is truly inspiring.”

Ann Wizer and Naomi Wizer-Green’s “Pain Drain” features a mother and daughter collaboration that recreates Naomi’s bathroom. In this personal space (what could be more private than one’s own bathroom?), Naomi draws and writes poems on its surfaces which become the channel through which she communicates with her mother. Scrawled on the wall are multiple passages. “Hello, I’m Naomi. I’m neurotic. Don’t believe me when I say I’m fine.” “Fate is an elegant, cold hearted whore.” “Jesus Christ; I’m not afraid to die(,) I’m afraid of what comes next.” Rather than being simply an observatory of how a mother and daughter convey to each other, the work is an interactive piece which allows the viewers to participate and scribble their own thoughts as well. Some of the writings of the audience include, “Silence is too loud sometimes”; “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”; and “Shit happens everyday.” “Pain Drain” works on the premise that verbalizing in writing and doodling give shape and form to personal situations, becoming the outlet in which these circumstances are self-acknowledged and in which steps to communication and understanding can be established, a response formed.

Personal space is something as well which Lyra Garcellano’s work touches on. After taking polaroids of several different bedrooms, Garcellano paints fire on the polaroids, emanating from the beds. The work, called “Burning Beds,” comments on how sites of (what ought to be) comfort, refuge and security can also be spaces of despair, violence, anger and distress, either by individual conditions or by outside situations which infiltrate to affect private lives.

In “Somewhere Tropical, In My Backyard Series,” Gina Osterloh, a Filipino-American artist based in the United States, confronts cultural identity in photographs that use a constructed  tropical set inclusive of a faux sunset background. One photograph shows a woman with her black hair and her brown skin (as seen in her hands as other parts of her are covered up in cuffed jeans, a white shirt, a jean jacket and black shoes) seemingly identifying her as Filipino. Yet, her face, turned away from the camera, signals a refusal to be pigeonholed in the clichés that come bound by coming from a certain culture or race. The work reverberates in current reality, with millions of Filipinos attempting to resolve their identities in foreign lands while dealing with a sense of isolation and displacement.

Alma Quinto’s “Ang Comfort Rooms ni Francis” is a collaboration between the artist, Francis Basas, Miho Nakanishi and Jelai Averilla. The installation is composed of three comfort rooms with holes in the ground for toilets with Alma basing the design on what she saw in evacuation centers in Bicol. Colorful tapestries copying the drawings of Francis Basis, a survivor of typhoon Reming and an occupant of a Bicol evacuation center, are mounted on the doors of these CRs which then become doorways that cohere with Francis’ past, present and future. The past (disaster) opens up to the text “BURY YOUR GUILT HERE” while the present (evacuation) opens up to “EMPTY YOUR POCKET HERE,” with an acrylic slit box provided for the audience to give donations to Francis’ education and needs. The future (Francis’ dream of a family being together forever) opens to “WISH YOU WERE HERE,” where viewers can make a wish and even say a prayer for Francis and other survivors to be reunited with their missing relatives. The CRs are contextualized by objects such as a pile of clothes or a garland of sampaguita flowers. In this work, Alma presents a creative way for people to be moved by and intimately involved in a rehabilitation effort when many have already been dulled by the constant call to give donations. (Perhaps getting artists’ inputs and involving them in projects may be an option that NGOs want to explore?)

It can’t be denied that sometimes art can be a cold and alienating fish. Yet, as this exhibit, which has many more works than mentioned in this article, so palpably shows, art is also a very practical and personal thing. It can be a means by which the afflicted can come to terms with painful ordeals and by which people can become aware and begin to reach out to others. In creativity and productivity comes a sense of self-worth as well. While arguably art is always relevant whatever the times, the pieces in this show assert art’s functionality and significance certainly well.

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“Trauma, Interrupted” is currently on view at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Main Gallery and Third and Fourth Floor Hallways, at Roxas Boulevard, Manila until July 29. For information on the exhibit, visit http://www.trauma-interrupted.org. E-mail the author at letterstolisa@gmail.com or visit http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

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