Catholicism and identity in contemporary Philippine art

Kawayan de Guia’s ‘Ethics of Mysticism’

“Under the Bells,” an exhibition featuring the works of three contemporary Filipino artists will be on view at Pintô International from October 16, 2019 to February 29, 2020. The opening reception on October 16 will start at 6 p.m.

Faith, religion, and spirituality are powerful forces in the Philippines. Catholicism, the archipelago’s predominant faith, colors all aspects of local culture. This exhibition, curated by Pintô International Director Luca Parolari, brings together the works of three artists to demonstrate not only how the country’s Catholic history provides fruitful subject matter for artists (be it from a position of critique or careful analysis), but how this history and its iconography becomes indigenized, adapted, and filtered. The works of Cian Dayrit, Kawayan de Guia, and Nona Garcia confront the paradoxes inherent in religion, calling into question the purity of singular religious identity.

The exhibition’s title refers to how the lives of Filipinos have been organized around religion. For 400 years, Filipinos have lived ‘debajo de las campanas’ (under the bells) of the church. As the Spanish colonized the archipelago, they consolidated dispersed peoples into pueblos with the church at the center of town life. Church bells would dictate the day’s events and summon villagers to worship. The parish priest often wielded dominant power in the pueblo, and so Filipinos have lived “under the bells” of Catholicism, figuratively and literally. As the works of Dayrit, de Guia, and Garcia demonstrate, religion often becomes uniquely hybridized “under the bells” as Catholicism blends with pre-Hispanic traditions of spirituality.

Cian Dayrit’s ‘Adversus Contradictores III’
Nona Garcia’s ‘Divine Exposure IX’

Cian Dayrit’s textile works engage with faith-based symbols to analyze the images, objects, and institutions that dictate what power “is.” In his works, created especially for this exhibition, Dayrit monumentalizes the anting-anting, a type of charm often inscribed into handkerchiefs carried by Filipinos. Intended to protect the carrier from harm, Dayrit embroiders his works with an imagined iconography and Latin words, creating a constructed sense of mysticism and spirituality.

Kawayan de Guia’s surreal, tableaux-like paintings emerge as “portraits” of indigenous figures in museological settings. Based in the Cordillera mountain range north of Manila, de Guia’s paintings engage with the changing nature of this region in the face of modernization and development, as well as the region’s spirituality. The figures are surrounded by Van Gogh paintings, globes, and ‘bulols,’ pre-Hispanic representations of spirits or ancestors carved in the Cordillera region. De Guia’s works consider the fallout when ancestral spirits collide with Western culture.

Nona Garcia’s haunting light boxes are the latest iteration of her ongoing x-rays of statues of saints. Catholic families frequently place saintly icons in their homes, which offer the devoted paths to spiritual and physical healing. Garcia seeks to reveal the materiality of the statues, while bestowing upon them a sense of otherworldly presence. She channels the traditions of the Cordilleras into her surroundings and takes an objective look beneath the surface of venerated objects.

Pintô International is the New York-based entity overseeing the global exhibitions and programming of the Pintô Art Museum in the Philippines. Directed by Luca Parolari, the organization is committed to supporting the careers of pioneering regional contemporary artists and fostering global connoisseurship for their distinct artistic practices. Pintô International presents quarterly exhibitions, an artist residency program and a monthly Pintô Sessions event series at the East Village location.

Dr. Joven Cuanang, Pintô founder and president, states: “For over three decades, it has been my unwavering vocation to undertake the promotion and support of contemporary Philippine art in my home in Manila. As Pintô builds its global constituency, we are looking to New York’s uniquely cosmopolitan, progressive arts community to join us in building a dialogue around a platform for the contribution of living Filipino artists.

(C) The FilAm 2019

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