The late Malang’s legacy lives on in this room

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Put together for him by his family, the Malang Room stands as a tangible testament to the great artist’s body of work. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Seven years ago, Soler Santos was looking through his father’s things and found his awards in storage. From prizes from his advertising days in the early ‘60s to national distinctions like the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines and the Gawad CPP Award, being confronted with his father’s legacy gave the youngest child of the artist Mauro “Malang” Santos an idea.

“We have a spare room at the top floor of our building so I thought of putting his stuff there,” he says. “I decided for it to be called ‘Malang Room’ because the space is small, it’s very intimate. It’s not as big as a museum.”

And so, in 2010, two floors above West Gallery, the gallery he runs with his wife and fellow artist Mona, Soler put together the Malang Room as a tribute to his father.

“At that time, his Alzheimer’s was in its early stages,” he says. “I wanted this room to be done while he could still see it and appreciate it. ‘Yung makita pa niya at naiintindihan pa niya ‘yung ibig sabihin ng ginawa kong ‘to.”

Malang Room The room is an intimate survey of Malang’s life and work. Photo by JL JAVIER  

On the morning of June 10, when news of Malang’s passing was heard on social media and national news and the tributes to the great artist started pouring in, a picture of the man began to emerge. More than a great artist, a truly generous man; more than a legend, a friend who never forgot and was always there for the people in his life. And while he was notorious for his vociferous public criticism of the local art scene, he was also the first to mediate any time members of his beloved Saturday Group had arguments.

The Malang Room his family put together for him stands as a tangible testament to the great artist’s body of work.

“You can see it as the growth of Malang as an artist and as a person,” Soler says. “You can see his other sides, not just paintings of women. There is a collection of old works, sketches, and comics.”

Malang Room Found in the Malang Room are framed posters from some of Malang's landmarks, rusty awards from different noteworthy award-giving bodies, and press clippings and magazines preserved under glass cases. Photo by JL JAVIER  

The room is an intimate survey of Malang’s life and work. And while it provides a comprehensive overview of his practice, the works in the Malang Room aren’t necessarily his biggest, most ambitious or most famous works. But the room has its surprises.

The artist is generally known for his cheerful, colourful gouache paintings featuring women but the room is testament to his range. There’s darker, starker work that seem at odds with the buoyant energy of his famous women. There are paintings of houses that, while using the gouache paint he usually worked with, display a lighter touch — it almost looks like watercolor. Another wall has several collages he made on a trip to New York in 2000, using what seem like magazines, brochures, and playbills from the trip.

Malang Room Says Soler: "There is a collection of old works, sketches, and comics." Photos by JL JAVIER  

Soler’s favorite work? “My dad made a pen ink portrait of his dad,” he says. “Sobrang nagandahan ako dun. Very personal.”

Along with framed posters from some of the older Santos’ landmark, rusty awards from different noteworthy award-giving bodies, and press clippings and magazines preserved under glass cases, the Malang Room allows a closer look at the great artist. They keep some of the actual brushes, pencils, and tools Malang used under a glass case in the middle of the room.

“I have plans to make [the room] bigger, maybe add another floor,” Soler says. “I plan to recreate his studio [there].”

“We'd just like to share Tatay to more people. Makita ‘yung soul niya.”

Malang’s youngest child, the designated protector of his father’s legacy, is currently in the process of sourcing different materials from his father’s storied career. Soon, he will begin work on a book project on Malang’s life and work.

Soler Santos - Malang Room While looking through his father’s things, Soler, the youngest child of the artist Mauro “Malang” Santos, got the idea to put up the Malang Room as testament to his father's legacy. Photo by JL JAVIER  

At 57, Soler Santos is an established artist and gallerist in his own right. But even as he is highly prolific and acclaimed artist, a kind of father figure to a generation of young artists, he will never really live down being Malang’s son.

‘Yung iba nag sasabi na ‘Nasa shadow ka lang ng tatay mo …’” Soler says. “Ako, proud ako na nasa shadow ako ni Malang. Ang masasabi ko lang diyan, nasanay akong kasama siya — ‘yung usual father and son, ‘diba? Tapos, nung namatay siya ang dami [mong nakitang] nagmamahal sa kanya. Naging proud ka na maraming gusto makakilala sa kanya … [‘Yung] ibang tao gusto makilala man lang siya. Tatay ko siya.

Soler says he and his father have different styles of working. “Mahilig sa meeting-meeting si tatay e, sa mga clubs,” he says. “Ako kasi hindi, e. Mas outgoing si Tatay. I think my style is more on having one-on-one with artists.”

Malang Room The artist is generally known for his cheerful, colourful gouache paintings featuring women but the room is testament to his range. Photo by JL JAVIER  

Isabel, Soler’s youngest child, who is also now an exhibiting artist, begs to differ. “I think both of them love to help the young artists,” she says. “My lolo would set up groups and clubs to have an avenue for the older generation help and guide the younger generation — maybe it was his way of connecting.”

“My dad naman is more of chatting [the younger artists] up at exhibits,” she adds, “getting the latest chismis from everyone but also asking if they need any help. I remember people even asking for art supplies. Whatever he can to support the artists he believes in, he will do.”

“I came with papa to an exhibit maybe five years ago,” Isabel says. “And people [still] kept introducing him as ‘Ito si Soler, anak ni Malang.’ When we were heading to the parking lot, I asked him if it bothered him that people kept him introducing him as that. It never did.”

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The Malang Room is at 48 West Ave, Quezon City. Set an appointment to visit by calling West Gallery at 411-0336.