ARTS

Filipino artists showcase works at one of Europe’s top contemporary art museums

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Pow Martinez has painted on the level 1 and level 2 stairs of the Palais de Tokyo, showcasing his grotesque, cartoon-like illustrations often completed with daring colors. Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — High poverty rates, economic instability, low quality of life, and an unreliable government are only some of the characteristics used to define a “Third World country.” The term originated during World War I and World War II, pertaining to countries that did not align to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nor the communist alliance.

Western and European countries such as the United States, Japan, Canada, and other European nations were considered “First World countries;” China, Cuba, and the Soviet Union called “Second World countries;” and nations that have remained neutral or were still recovering from its colonial past were called the “Third World countries.”

In history, first and second world countries were front and center in the wars — battling, scheming. It’s as though the story of the world’s collective past was shaped according to their victories and losses, while third world countries were only used as pawns and shields or were only made to watch as the world passed them by. Along with the gradual recognition of the incorrigible repercussions of war in recent years is the acknowledgment that there is more to these third world countries than what the rest of the world may perceive.

Leeroy New's immersive installation. Photo courtesy of LEEROY NEW

“I ‘colonize’ alien territory by building sci-fi landscapes over existing structures and spaces. This landscape will also be inhabited by alien costumed characters which I allow the audience to participate in,” Leeroy New shares about his installation. Photo by ALICIA HARTMANN

On June 21, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, one of the largest and most sought after museums dedicated to contemporary art, opened its newest exhibit “City Prince/sses,” featuring 50 artists, creators, experimenters, musicians, and designers among others, from Dhaka, Lagos, Mexico City, Tehran, and Manila — capital cities of “third world countries” that have also become synonymous with chaotic and complex urban spaces. Filipinos included are Dina Gadia, Pow Martinez, Ha.Mü, Dex Fernandez, Urban Decay Planning, Leeroy New, Timmy Harn, and Rasel Trinidad (Doktor Karayom).

Dex Fernandez, also known as Garapata, is presenting a 29-second loop animation called “Garaparty People,” meant to represent people’s ability to shapeshift, as our influences and worldviews can become more homogeneous. The loop is projected on a wall together with an installation of another Mexican artist.

“It portrays dance as a language of different people to unite us in one place through bonds formed despite differences in culture and influences. Dance has been part of man’s ritual to communicate to its gods, nature, and each other. This primitive form of expression is sustained in contemporary cultures globally,” he explains.

“It is a display of our identities that transmutes as our worldviews expand. The body as a vessel and dance as transformation are the key ideas of the work.”

Screenshots from Garapata's video installation. Video courtesy of DEX FERNANDEZ

Like Fernandez, director and production designer Timmy Harn’s works are also projected. His works featured include a two-minute short film called “Cyber D3vil X Ahas,” which is exhibited at the entrance of the exhibition space, and a full-length feature film he directed entitled “Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas.”

When asked what the exhibit in Palais means to him, he says, “I’m happy that there are other venues and ways to show my work other than film festivals and cinemas or microcinemas. I hope this also opens doors here in the Philippines to alternative ways of showcasing and discussing work relating to the moving image.”

Certainly, the show doesn't limit itself to the common notions of art, as it has included filmmakers, producers, and fashion designers. Ha.Mu, an independent local fashion brand, by Abraham Guardian and Mamuro Oki, is also presenting works in Palais. Known for their signature oversized silhouettes, eccentric textures, and vibrant patchworks, the brand was instructed to make sculptures that best represent their vision as artists. This resulted to mannequins dressed in avant-garde fabric manipulations and monstrous, almost animated pieces. 

A still from Timmy Harn's “Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas.” Photo courtesy of TIMMY HARN

The sculptures of Ha.Mu, an independent local fashion brand, by Abraham Guardian and Mamuro Oki. Photos courtesy of HA.MU

Another artist presenting in Palais is Dina Gadia, whose vibrant satin banners called “All States No States” hang from the ceiling of the museum’s halls. For Gadia, it is rather significant that Filipino artists were given space in an institution like Palais.

“The fact that there were a lot of art practitioners here who were interviewed already means Filipino artists are given attention and not only through inclusion in exhibitions,” she says. “Maybe we share the same energy and vibrancy with artists from other countries in art making. It feels good to be included, with this exhibition presented as borderless city and the city as a laboratory.”

The exhibit “City Prince/sses” has no demarcations as to which artist came from what country, making it a seamless synergy of creativity. Gadia adds that through this kind of curation, it shows that art is art, no matter where you are, no matter how different or similar your views are. “People have different ways of looking at things. I think I am more interested in that art doesn't have to surrender to what is global or local,” she adds. “Of the many words that defines what art is, it is a record of life. It's nice to hear a beat.”

Dina Gadia's vibrant satin banners called “All States No States” hang from the ceiling of the museum’s halls. Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

Pow Martinez, another exhibiting Filipino artist, has painted on the level 1 and level 2 stairs of the Palais, showcasing his grotesque, cartoon-like illustrations often completed with daring colors. He says he’s used the staircases and the walls as one big sketch pad.

“It is something I don't always do because I’m not a street or graffiti artist,” he shares. “It is challenging to make because of the big scale. It is like making 30 large paintings.”

Martinez says that what guests will see at Palais is instinctive work more than anything. “I don't work literally and make work directly based on the curatorial theme. I think for me it's boring and uninteresting to make work like that, to be totally direct,” he explains.

“I want the viewer to complete the work by viewing it.”

Pow Martinez says he used the staircases and the walls as one big sketch pad. Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

Much like Martinez, Leeroy New’s installation would also need the viewer to fulfill the work, as it is an immersive installation of his ongoing Aliens of Manila series.

“I ‘colonize’ alien territory by building sci-fi landscapes over existing structures and spaces. This landscape will also be inhabited by alien costumed characters which I allow the audience to participate in,” he shares. “The installation and costumes will be composed of materials and found objects I’ve collected locally as well as brought in from Manila and other places I’ve travelled.”

Palais de Tokyo has been known to be an “anti-museum,” as its ethos has always been to be “convivial and challenging, generous and cutting edge, inviting and radical, poetic and transgressive … a space from which the unexpected springs forth.” To a certain degree, it is in mounting an exhibit of artists who are entirely from “third world countries” that Palais stays true to its spirit, showing that what constitutes art, especially contemporary art, can no longer be dictated by what “first world countries” know to be the standard.

But, maybe, there’s still much to improve upon in terms of how the world views and experiences art because when there is still a need for an institution like Palais to shape what is or what is not, then perhaps it is not as radical as it sets itself out to be.

Nonetheless, it’s a step forward and a step that Filipino artists now exhibiting in Palais do not take for granted.

New says, “I think it’s important to show how different Filipino creatives have found ways to practice artistic production within the context of urban Manila’s unique and oftentimes very harsh conditions, that despite the extreme and disadvantageous systems in place, we manage to affect change.”

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“City Prince/sses” runs from June 21 to Sept. 9 2019 at Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

UPDATE: This piece was updated to include the names of all the artists whose works are on display.