A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Merging currents

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — “Of all the art exhibits I have lately seen in Davao City, this one is the best!” Such were the words of the noted Davao visual artist, Victor Secuya at the opening of Merging Currents – an art exhibit involving more than 30 distinguished artists of both Davao City’s seasoned as well as emerging (or those who just finished their Art courses – mainly at the University of Mindanao – and current students).

The opening ceremony for this exhibit, organized by the art groups namely Daba Daba Davao and Alampat Davao (led by Jun and MaRee Contaoi Cayas) took place at the second floor of the Matina Town Square at past 5:00 P.M., on 18 May 2017 with full backing from the City Tourism Operations Office (CTOO). More than a hundred artists and their friends and supporters, as well as government officials and media people were on hand to attend the opening ceremony.

Merging Currents is one more proof of the burgeoning visual art scene in Davao City which in the past few years has seen an explosion of hometown talents and the regular occurrence of art exhibits, despite Davao City’s limited gallery space. As in many urban centers in this country beyond Metro Manila, the support of both government and private groups by way of making sure there is enough gallery space that can be used for exhibitions has come in trickles. Artists have to struggle very hard to be provided such spaces.

Perhaps, the City Tourism Operations Office staff are awakening to the need to provide support to artists, which is why they are beginning to help sponsor the likes of Merging Currents. In the words of Ms Generose Tecson, OIC of CTOO, “tourism’s backbone is the arts” and thus “if the city needs to do something about its lack of color, we need to support art exhibits and thus prove that life is really here in the city!”

Indeed, the exhibit should be seen by all Davaoeňos and one hopes that crowds would flock to the venue and see the artworks before it closes within two weeks of exhibition. The collection is really quite an amazing mix, but what is noteworthy of Merging Currents is that seasoned artists (the likes of Kublai Millan, Victor Secuya, Jun Cayas, Anoy Catague, Abe Garcia Jr, Joel Geolamen, Elenita Dumlao, Victor Dumaguing, Alynnala Macla and others) have joined hands with the budding young ones who are now making a name for themselves in the city’s art scene. In fact, the quality of the works of the emerging artists can give the established artists “a run for their money”; a phrase quite apt considering Victor Secuya’s exhortation that all artists in the city should aim at contributing towards the development of “creative economy”.

Apart from the high quality of this collection, one can only be amazed at the wide range of the genres covered (paintings, intermedia using various materials, photography, art installations and artistic/creative works) as well as the high level of creativity in the use of various media and materials (canvas, wood, bamboo, oil, acrylic, watercolor, cloth and even unlikely materials such as hair, durian leaves and plastic toy soldiers). The sizes range from photos and creative works the size of legal bond paper to murals that extend to 4 feet by 8 feet (Mican Fernandez’ Visualizing the Sama Dlaut Christianization, oil on canvas).

As expected, a number of paintings of these Davao artists continue to appropriate the Lumad myths, narratives, symbols and the colors of Mindanao’s indigenous communities. One appreciates the artists’ intent not to misrepresent the Lumad images but at the same time to move beyond the mere mirroring of what the eye can behold during such encounters with the Lumads. There are those whose integrated narratives on the canvas come straight out of epics e.g. John Lester Bayao’s Bagobo Creation Story – Tuglay and Tuglibong (intermedia using hard rubber sheet and paint on wood ply, showing images of fruit and human figures interfacing black and white colors that look like prints), Dennis Puzon’s Story of Lakivot (oil on canvas with interfacing allegorical symbols of the myth), Angelo Florante Nur Valente’s Tudbulul – The Arrival of New Hero (oil on canvas but framed like a scroll with two bamboos holding it together) and Jashiel Dominique Ramos’ Agyu’s Heroic Acts – An Artistic Manifestation (intermedia on canvas with a panoramic fight scene between the epic hero and his enemies).

On the other hand, other artists’ works manifest their fascination with the Lumads, their lives, cultures and struggles including: Felix Pabalinas Jr.’s impressive Akong Ginikanan (oil on wood panel as well as bamboo that mimics the traditional triptych format of an altar-piece of saints; in this case, the artists’ two couples framing a Lumad ancestral domain scene of waters, mountains, forests and huts, embellished further by the everyday objects of Lumad life – machete, shield, herbs and a hut – as well as animal symbols); Artemio Bongawan’s Bagobo (saw dust on wood panel); Victor Dumaguing’s pointillist-styled Spirit of Ancestors consisting of 5 pieces (combining paint on canvas with tnalak incorporated into the art showing human figures playing musical instruments) and Jun Cayas’ We Are and Bae (We Are) (intermedia on canvas showing the profiles of a Bagani and the face of a Bae, manifesting the Cayas’ artistic style).

Of special interest are the attempts of three artists to paint Lumad images but to do so with a post-modernist twist. Jefferson Bangot’s Tangled Strings (acrylic on canvas showing a Lumad musician caught up in a twisted, complicated and tangled mess through the intersecting of lines of strings across the piece); Bing Carino’s Blaan (enamel on canvas rendering images of the Lumad by way of playful imaging that render asymmetrical shapes) and Leonardo Comargo Jr.’s Vituvian (intermedia on canvas with rich Bukidnon Lumad colors put together in concentric circles).

The participation of the seasoned artists adds prestige to this exhibit. Kublai Millan’s Siatong (acrylic on canvas) is a joyful and playful rendering that brings up childhood memories of playing in the streets, Victor Secuya’s (Music fest) # 7 (acrylic on canvas) is a celebration of music in colors that can brighten up a gloomy day! Elenita Dumalo’s Inclusive Domain (acrylic on canvas) departs from her signature computer-generated art pieces and are a delight to the eyes! Alynnah Macla’s Too Loud to be Seen (intermedia using oil paint and graphite on salvaged wood) shows how split-wood as “canvas” on which images are painted can be a source of delight! Joel Geolamen’s Kabilin (oil on canvas) is a visual delight, with a malong painted in bold rich colors made to look like a mountain range lighted by a pale moon. Abe Garcia’s Jr.’s Ding and Dong (fried dumplings), Hasim (seafoods and jucies) and All (potato fries and juices) are C-print photos that show how Roxas Boulevards’ food vendors manage to put everything – tables, chairs, cooking gadgets, food ingredients are piled up one on top of another on small tricycles that can carry such heavy loads – images that look tragically funny!

There are other striking pieces in this collection that do not usually follow the traditional shapes and forms of the usual art exhibit. At the same time, they confront social realities of Davao’s society. There are the four pieces of Jeoffrey Omar Casas’ Redemption, Across the Crescent Moon, and Direksyon 1 and 2 (acrylic on wood shaped as tadtaran (chopping block) ; after seeing these pieces tadtarans will become hot items for art purposes rather than being relegated to the kitchen or the butcher’s shop). Jessel Namalata’s An Anonymous Account of Buntog in Davao City (intermedia on canvas with graphite drawing pencil and acrylic paint on 6 panels connected to each other which stand like a round stage with an opening) is a feminist rendering of the plight of the buntogs.

Then there are the installations and the artistic/creative works. Nonoy Narciso’s Ugong ug Gapnod: Memoirs of Shifting Planes of Davao (is a collage made up of found objects like rubber slippers and bottles discarded at dumpsites forming an assemblage that define our garbage-laden society). Ryan Aguste’s Lantaw and Amahan (intermedia) use small circles of dried durian leaves glued on wood that when put together show stark images. And finally, there is Mahavir Ramirez’ In this Battle, I think of Tomorrow, a unique art piece that shows two sides of a human face: one side – rendered through the use of human hair strand (truly a painstaking work!) – a solemn face, but on the other hand a much troubled one – made up of hundreds of small plastic toy soldiers pieced together and shows the face’s contours and different shades of emotion!

In the end, it really didn’t matter much to find out who among the artists are the seasoned ones (veterans in the field and whose works are now collectibles) or those who are just emerging (having just finished or are still doing their art studies at UM). All contributed to making Merging Currents a “must-see” exhibit for all of us in this city that not only produced the current President but visual artists of top caliber whose works can take a pride of place in both the national and global art scene. [Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books and writes two columns for  MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]