There is a wide array of Filipino works in the ongoing exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore, entitled Beyond Declarations and Dreams. The exhibition aims to survey the historical development of art in the different states in the Southeast Asian region starting the 19th century to 1990’s, laid in parallel with each other to present a unified regional narrative. For the larger context of the exhibition, as per the introduction:
The story of modern art in Southeast Asia is one that has been largely written from national perspectives. This story might look quite different, however, if one were to look beyond geo-political boundaries. One might then start to perceive points of connection within Southeast Asia, points that are informed by similar experiences of colonisation, independence, nation-building, modernity. Shared artistic impulses and historical experiences exist, however, amid diversity. Southeast Asia can be described, after all, as an idea located south of China and east of India.
The exhibition is comprised of works from the gallery collection, and government and private collections around the region — some of which are from the public museums and galleries in the country. As the works are loaned for several years, local and foreign visitors here would not be able to view them for the remainder of the loan period. Thus, it is in this sentiment that ManilaArtScene has decided to document these Filipino art pieces that were borrowed.
Authority and Anxiety
The second gallery of this section presents works of Filipino old masters who were influenced by the West, as result of the presence of these colonial forces in the country — thus reflecting the mix of local and Western in the pieces displayed. Works include those of Juan Arzeo, Simon Flores, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, and Juan Luna. It is notable that the latter two of these artists studied painting in Europe, and won second and first places, respectively, in the 1884 Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid, which most historians think what introduced the Philippines in the international art scene.
Imagining Country and Self
Artists started developing individualistic taste. New and progressive styles in art-making flourished, giving birth to the modernist movement in the country. However, resistance from such change within those who prefer the academic style of art-making made the distinct divide between conservatives and moderns, made vibrant by the infamous walkout of 20 conservative painters from the Art Association of the Philippines-Rotary art competition. The works displayed are the ones of Victorio Edades, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, and Galo B. Ocampo.
Manifesting the Nation
Works manifesting the definition of a nation fighting for its independence are the contributions of the artists in the country-wide struggle during the era of World War II. It was noted that realism was favored more because it had the power to communicate directly to the people. Thus, works of the well-known academic Fernando Cueto Amorsolo and one of the Thirteen Modernists Ricarte Puruganan are displayed in this section.
After World War II, artists seek to reflect a new reality — a different future, relevant then as the country recuperates from the damages of the war. They leaned towards morphed forms and abstraction of the figures of their subjects. H.R. Ocampo and Arturo Luz veers away from idealized images of the country.
With the rise of the newly independent state, the urge to be in tune with global trends is also on the rise. Lee Aguinaldo and J. Elizalde Navarro showed this desire to be international and global through their abstract paintings and sculptures, respectively.
Also, after the war, some artists were inspired to continue criticizing social structures and reveal the social realities at their times, as they found injustice still present even after the war. Works by social realists Alfredo Manrique and Pablo Baens Santos are displayed in this section.
Critiquing the then conventions of art, avante garde experiments brought to life conceptual art by Roberto Chabet and Raymundo Albano, who provided support structure and space to artists who would want to explore new approaches in creating art. Outside the country, David Medalla performs his own artistic explorations through his famous bubble art.
However, some artists tend to appreciate the dualism between ingenuity and contemporaneity by using local materials to tackle issues of their time. Examples of which are the works of Santiago Bose, Norberto Roldan, Cesare Syjuco, and Imelda Cajipe Endaya.
With the nearing of the new millennium, inter-nation communication has never been easier. This time, artists started to examine more critically the various bases and politics of their marginalized identities and ambivalence in areas such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and nationality. Equality has been the battle cry of many artists, who employ rather more interdisciplinary approaches in creating their art. One work here is Gerardo Tan’s The End (1995), which also closes the exhibition.
The exhibition Between Declarations and Dreams is one of the permanent exhibitions of the National Gallery Singapore. The museum is located at 1 St Andrew’s Rd, Singapore.