Art Radar has a look at the latest offering at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
“MANILA: Hidden in Plain Sight”, a traveling exhibition of works by 8 contemporary Filipino and Manila-based artists, reveals facets of the city that are ignored, exoticised and forgotten.
Before traveling from one academic institution to another, the “MANILA: Hidden in Plain Sight” exhibition is currently anchored at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (MET Museum), where its collection of Manila-inspired works by eight contemporary artists is joined by pieces from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) art collection.
Put together by the museum’s curatorial team headed by Desi Tolentino and Taiwanese curator Fang-Tze Hsu, this particular stint of the exhibition presents a strong multilayered narrative that tackles the glorious city that was (Manila was once known as the Pearl of the Orient before WWII), the city’s ever-changing and regressing urban landscape of today and the city’s characters, along with the aspects of the Manila retained in their consciousness.
Threading together the entire exhibition collection is a three-piece video sculpture by Tad Ermitaño (b. 1964), which meditates on what urban development and expansion mean for the communities residing in Manila’s periphery. By mounting video channels that portray the life of informal settlers (specifically those from Pandacan) on trolleys made out of scraps (trolleys in Manila also serve as a mode of public transport), Gillage: History, Modernity and Conjecture documents how squatters are quickly able to build, demolish and rebuild physical homes from ramshackle materials over and over again. And while Ermitaño’s work shows images of the increasing disparity between the poor and the wealthy, viewers also realise the admirable traits of resourcefulness and resilience of the community in focus.
Expounding on the subject of improvised homes is MM Yu (b. 1978), whose series of photographs entitled “In Transit” offers a closer look at the kind of materials informal settlers use for their homes – outdated ads printed on tarps, ragged blankets, huge plastic bags discarded boxes for electronic appliances, etc. While these seem to only fall into two categories, namely housing materials and accumulated trash, Yu through photography brings up that these materials and the structures they form could be seen as installations or public art. Included in the exhibition is the artist’s response to the resourcefulness she has observed. In Tree Grid, which is basically a work of e-print on wood, Yu simultaneously transforms wood and a mundane image of Manila into art.
Aside from the trolley, another mode of transportation that “MANILA: Hidden in Plain Sight” features is the LRT, which allows people in the city to have easy access to government institutions, universities, cultural landmarks and shopping districts. Instead of merely stressing how essential the train is in people’s lives, however, artist Cocoy Lumbao (b. 1977), in his Index (Elevated Train), uses the LRT to take audiences to a future wherein Manila is stripped-off its chaos. Evoking a symmetric optical illusion of city, Lumbao’s piece is calming in the beginning. Later on, however, the perfect symmetry makes one question if Manila would still be Manila without the noise and inconsistency.
Then, there are the works of Issay Rodriguez (b. 1991) and Leeroy New (b. 1986), which take into account the collective memory behind once highly praised landmarks. For Rodriguez, it is the Capitol Theater, an art deco structure that was built in the 1930s by national artist Arch. Juan Nakpil. Like many of Manila’s stand-alone theaters, this building lost its spark and was forgotten once shopping malls began to house cinema houses. For New, it is the Pasig River, which lost its community value due to massive pollution. Through their art, Rodriguez and New hope to remind viewers about the cultural significance of the Capitol Theater, the river and to hopefully create new memories and secondary purposes for these landmarks.
Of course, this exhibition also contemplates the people of Manila. While overly populated, the city has dwellers that standout, which can be seen in Denise Weldon’s (b. 1964) photographs. Moreover, aside from their creativity and resilience, those in Manila are innately optimistic and have a habit of poking fun at day-to-day struggles, which is reflected in the comics of Manix Abrera (b. 1982). Speaking of people, Dina Gadia’s (b. 1986) collages are proof that Manila’s way of thinking blends traditional views and pop culture from foreign lands, which just underscores the many paradoxes that exist within the city.
Regarding the pieces from the BSP collection, which are dated from the 1920s to 2010, these record what Manila looked like in the past and its people’s changing preferences. Collectively, these works underline that the city is ever-morphing in terms of physical structures, communities and mentalities. Works from the BSP collection that are included in the “MANILA: Hidden in Plain Sight” exhibition are by Isidro Ancheta, Antonio Austria, Roberto Balajadia, Pete Bravante, Dominador Castañeda, E. Aguilar Cruz, Antipas Delotavo, Victor C. Diores, Ofelia Gelvezo-Tequi, Romero Jocson, Alfredo Roces, Norberto Roldan, Elaine Navas, Jorge Pineda and Alwin Reamillo.
After its run at the MET Museum, “MANILA: Hidden in Plain Sight”, with the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, will be brought to the campuses of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Universidad de Manila and Manila High School.
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