COFFEE BREAK. I need coffee. For someone like me who reads and writes then talks a lot and reads again, coffee is an elixir. The effects of drinking coffee in me is perfectly described by the playwright Honoré de Balzac, who ingested powdered coffee on an empty stomach: ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Ha!
But one day, instead of having a coffee break at work, I walked into the Lopez Museum at Benpress Building to meet up with artist Joey Cobcobo. At the museum, Joey introduced me to Ricky Francisco, who happily toured us around the Propaganda exhibit that he co-curated with Ethel Villafranca.
Propaganda is a gathering of available artworks and different media from the collection of the Lopez Museum and Library that has been selected for the exhibit because they demonstrate how propaganda art impacts the development of a nation and its history.
A WORLD THAT LOVES THE UNDERDOGS. On exhibit is an 1885 painting of Juan Luna depicting a flower shop with vendors arranging flowers for the state funeral of the well-loved writer Victor Hugo. Hugo was the author of Les Miserables, a novel that criticized justice and morality in France. Ricky pointed out Luna’s use of common people as the main subjects in his works and the double-meaning imagery in his art.
During the Spanish period, the use of double-meaning imagery in art is common. This practice is seen in Juan Luna’s Spoliarium and Felix Hidalgo’s Virgenes Christianas. Double-meaning imagery was interpreted by the likes of Dr. Jose Rizal who compared the scene in the Spoliarium and the image of Christian virgins to be like the Philippines. Both artworks won international awards because of their effective use of chiaroscuro, the creative rendering of Classical human figures and the composition of common people or the underdogs like the fallen gladiators and female slaves as main subjects.
BUSTAMANTE STUDIES. While Luna is known for his bolder and more spontaneous style, Hidalgo maintained a conservative and more subtle approach in his works, except for the painting El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante, which tells the story how a group of angry friars violently murdered Governor General Fernando Bustamante y Bustillo in 1719.
The painting, said to be commissioned by Antonio Ma. Regindor, a mason and an anti-cleric is permanently displayed at the National Museum. Study drawings for the Assassination of Bustamante painting is on exhibit at the Lopez Museum.
PASSION AND REVOLUTION. For so much of the 300 years of Spanish rule, the use of imagery through religious art and print media in forms of prayer books (Doctrina Christiana)and books on conduct (Urbana at Feliza) became instrumental in spreading Christianity and Western way of life into our consciousness and political systems. Filipinos during the colonial period expressed passion for their religion and demonstrated their passiveness to the ways of the colonizers. This passiveness is alluded in the painting Abyssmal Abound: Trinity of Passiveness by the late CCP 13 Artists Awardee Don Salubayba.
Realizing the power of print media, enlightened Filipinos like Dr. Jose Rizal published important novels, Noli and Fili. The novels and the execution of its author ignited hate against Spain, which eventually led to a series of revolution organized by Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan. A recreation of Santiago Bose’s 1983 installation Pasyon at Rebolusyon brings us to the Katipunan initiation rites has been reinstalled by artist Kawayan de Guia for the Propaganda exhibit.
BENCAB TIME MACHINE. Taking us back in time through art are works of National Artist Ben Cabrera. On exhibit at the Lopez Museum Library are BenCab’s painting that are based from old 19th century photographs like women in baro’t saya and men in rayadillo, standard uniform of Gen. Aguinaldo’s army designed by Juan Luna. These historical allusions are attempts to create resonance between our past to our present political and social condition.
Taking us to BenCab’s thoughts are correspondences and doodles also on display at the museum’s library.
PER PACEM ET LIBERTATEM. The Americans came at the height of President Aguinaldo’s Revolution. Aside from physically crushing native resistance in the Philippine-American War, US colonial strategy was focused on dominating ideology and culture through the implementation of public school system. In the world visual arts there was high demand for illustrations on text books and propaganda art.
Felix Hidalgo was commissioned by the US government to paint Par Pacem at Libertatem that shows Madre Filipinas represented by woman in mourning holding a bolo pointing downward and offering an olive branch to a Joan of Arc-like character in American Stars and Stripes. On exhibit is an 18 x 24 study. The original painting was blasted away during World War II.
AMORSOLO’S BURNING OF INTENDENCIA. The Americans as the new art patrons favored idyllic, sun-drenched pastoral landscapes. Fernando Amorsolo was the prolific painter for this genre. However, in 1942 he painted the Burning of the Intendencia to capture the attack of the Japanese to then US-governed Philippines.
According to Ricky, patrons asked Amorsolo to make versions of this painting after the war.
WAR PROPAGANDA. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US declared war against Imperial Japan. The Philippines became a battle ground of the two colonizers.
Rare vintage Japanese and American World War II posters from the Lopez Museum archive demonstrate the use of imagery in instilling fear and surrender, bravery and patriotism.
PROTEST ART. Social Realism is an art movement that took the lead with the declaration of Martial Law in 1972.
The curators of the Propaganda exhibit commissioned Nunelucio Alvarado to install individual drawings and prints of his past works into a collage entitled Rompagon Ang Mga Sakon. Nune is an outstanding artist of protest art. For one, he was a political detainee during the Martial Law and can tell endless stories about the dark years in our history through his figurative expressionism.
PEOPLE POWER ART. The assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and the fraudulent elections became a catalyst to the staging of the 1986 People Power Revolution. This historic event is captured on canvas by Angel Cacnio.
Similar theme but this time a satirical realism criticizing the controversial 2009 National Artist awardees is Romulo Galicano’s Siete de Agosto: Allegory of a Farce. In August 7, 2009, the art community staged a protest against the intervention of President Gloria Arroyo in the National Artist Award.
TAHANANG MAY HAGDANAN. Art installation by CCP 13 artist awardee Joey Cobcobo is composed of unexpected objects sourced from the community he volunteered to take care. Piercing through the ceiling are wood ladders as if a chandelier came from three different households. Below are flights of stairs with a map of Mandaluyong City given by the city mayor to the artist echoes the España y Filipinas painting of Juan Luna as a symbol of partnership towards a progressive future.
Pre-etched bakya served as stamps where spectators are encouraged to make stamps using the bakya as sign of commitment in the helping communities as Joey did.
VOTE WISELY. A portion of the installation by Joey Cobcobo is a huge drawing of a pregnant 20-year old model and the rice terraces in the background. The drawing is made entirely of finger prints from the artist, an act similar to how this nation elect their leaders.
EPILOGUE. The scope of artworks in the Propaganda exhibit at the Lopez Museum crystallizes the hegemonic role of art in shaping the collective memory of our nation. Whether the message is about truth, fantasy, or mere subtleties, propaganda art has proven its potency in swaying society and the course of our history.
So there, as I walk back to the office from my ‘coffee break’ at the Lopez Museum, I was on natural high as if I had shots of espresso. I imagined myself to be Victor Hugo’s character Enjolras, waving the Philippine flag while singing this excerpt from the musical Les Miserables:
Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men.
It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again…
-Araw ng Watawat
28 May -12 June 2015