A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Review of Anoy Catague’s tales of destruction

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 December) — Last Sunday, the Christian world entered into the season of Advent, usually explained as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. Like Lent, the liturgical color of Advent is purple. To prepare ourselves for the joy of Christmas, we are supposed to find time to reflect on the deep meanings of our faith in relation to our discipleship in Jesus Christ.

But the focus of our reflection on the “coming” is not so much the birth of Jesus Christ and his coming to the world as a human being as this has already taken place two thousand years ago. Instead, our thoughts are supposed to turn to the “Second Coming”, or the return of Jesus to the world as He promised at the end of history when God’s reign reaches its fullness.

The basic question at hand is: how does one prepare for this Second Coming during this time of Advent?

Let me offer one suggestion. Pardon me dear reader, but I will refrain from suggesting the usual traditional acts in the realm of prayer, retreats, going to confession, fasting, giving alms to the poor and the like. Instead, I urge you very strongly – to go and spend at least an hour at the Bahaghari Gallery of the Museo Dabawenyo (in the very heart of Davao City) and see Mariano “Anoy” Amar Catagaue’s solo painting exhibit, Tales of Destruction.

Entering this gallery that can serve as chapel, go straight to the this exhibit’s most striking painting that not only takes one’s breath away but makes one feel the Spirit’s breath transporting one’s art viewing into an intense faith experience. The piece is entitled Kalbaryo (A Never Ending Story), a huge painting in acrylic (185 cm X 138 cm) that dominates an entire wall of the gallery.

Kalbaryo is a powerful art work, the imagery of which is at once familiar and iconic, but also mysterious and disturbing; it has an imaginary finger pointing to the viewers demanding them to take a stand even as they stand there in front of the painting transfixed with the interplay of startling symbols. Christ is a Lumad, standing on what is left of a tree cut down presumably by loggers. His is an indigenous face with iconic eyes sadly gazing at the devastated landscape. He wears a strange headgear that combines what land surveyors, miners and the military put on their head. On his left hand, he holds an armalite; while the other hand firmly clasps the warrior’s machete.

This is the inculturated Christological image very relevant to the context of Mindanao today. Two major issues are linked to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, namely, how the Lumad peoples have been exploited and violated by all those who subjugate them for the latter’s self-interests but at the same time devastating the environment especially those of the uplands where the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples have been transformed into battlefields.

Patrick Flores, a noted art critic wrote of this piece: “The iconography of the cross is curious, the Christian image is fused with the torment of the animist, thus translating the condition of Calvary in the Philippine south.” This is a piece that can only be painted by a Mindanawon artist immersed in the realities of the disenfranchised Lumad and the devastated land that was once referred to as Land of Promise.”

With Kalbaryo and this entire 30-piece collection mostly done in acrylic, Catague has taken a major leap of faith even as he announces that he is shifting into another chapter of his productive life as a visual artist. Born in Butuan City, Catague was drawn to both visual and performing arts in his youth through the cultural movement that arose in the Agusan region in the 1970s and which linked with the MINDULANI network. Coming into contact with the Kaliwat Performing Arts his talent at painting was honed. Starting with black-and-white painting of the Lumads which was uniquely his own, he began to attract the attention not only of those in the cultural workers’ circles (many of whom won T-shirts printed with images of his paintings) but also collectors across the country.

To date, Catague has mounted nine solo-exhibits while participating in 50 group exhibits in various parts of the country. Tales of Devastation is one of the most accomplished while providing the viewers with a glimpse of the landscape that Catague wants to further explore as he covers a wider scope One has no doubt that he can move successfully to this new terrain as his talent can serve him very well, indeed.

Two other big paintings in the exhibit show the depth of his talent. There is Donalo and High Grade. The former’s concentric circles draw the eye to a biblically-inspired Tree of Life. At first glance, one is caught with the visual delight that the art piece offers. But in the tree’s shadows is Dante’s Inferno showing detailed images of those who suffer the impact of mega-disasters as well as dead bodies floating on water. As one’s eye follows the movement of the calamities’ trajectory, one recalls images of Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda.

High Grade further explores the sea of devastation but this time focused in the mining landscape. From afar, one sees a snake curling across the canvass. But approaching the painting, one is startled to discover that there is a train carrying minerals from the underground pit at the very center of the painting which then runs in circle around a mountain. Moving further closer to the painting, one gets shocked to see that the train’s carriages not only carry minerals but human beings. One wonders: are they tired workers? Or guards needing sleep? Or salvaged bodies?

There are smaller paintings that reveal similar harrowing images. The two pieces with the same title Lomot sa Kalimot are faces of those victimized by ecological devastation; one shows a mother and child lamenting their situation; while the face in the other is that of Job screaming his pain but also his rage. In the two pieces with fiery colors – Day After I and Day After II – Catague sustains his rage but at the same time shows his mastery of the Lumad images.

There is no doubt about it; Catague is the beneficiary of the legacy of Mindanawon ancestors who are masters of their indigenous art. With his paintings, he connects with the spirit of the elders who embroidered all those designs into what they wore at rituals. For how else can you explain the richness in the details that Catague paints into his canvasses? A single major symbol that Catague returns again and again is the juxtaposition of the sun and the agong. It is as if he makes not just the agong by recreating them but get them to play music reaching out to the sun.

With the rest of the exhibit, the old Catague asserts its presence especially in the Ampingan Nato series of black-and-white small paintings done in pen-and-ink and acrylic. So also the playful Catague with the Earthrise series, where in four pieces, one sees the agong-sun rising. With Nicole’s Smile and Woman with an Agong, Catague improvises further with colors even as his figures’ faces radically shift away from his usual portraits.

One says a thanksgiving prayer at the end of one’s viewing of Tales of Devastation. One is grateful for a number of reasons. Unlike other art forms especially theatre and the performing arts which are no longer as vibrant as they were during martial rule, the field of visual arts in Davao City and many parts of Mindanao continue to soar. One is glad there is a gallery like Bahaghari that regularly offers this kind of art exhibit. One is also thankful that Catague has sustained his art practice – despite having to work as a videographer of a TV network- and with Tales of Devastation has produced works like Kalbaryo.

And most especially one found a time and place to embrace the spirit of Advent in the most unexpected moment and space.

The exhibit opened in early November and will only last until 11 December 2014 before the Advent season ends. Catch it before the exhibit packs up! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)