A posse of students, families, and couples crowded inside the SM Art Center gallery at the 5th floor of SM MegaMall in Ortigas, Pasig City.
It was almost lunch time. And while neighboring art galleries inhaled silence in their guests-bereft open spaces, this one exhaled with the bustle and chatter of curious visitors and guests.
An almost 4 feet x 4 feet mixed media rendition of a woman reclining on the feathers of giant wings sprouting from her shoulders has caught the attention of a young group. Sexily clad, her hair is short and flaming-red; her generous lips and small high-bridged nose disappearing in black-and-white checkered squares, effectively emphasizing lambent, lonely eyes.
She is but one of about 30 life-size pieces that made up “Ground Zero: An artist comes home,” a collection of old and new works of Jordan-based Filipino visual artist Elmer Dumlao.
“This (woman with angel wings) is part of my ‘Animan’ series, first exhibited in 2012 at the Zara Gallery in Amman, Jordan,” Dumlao said, explaining that ‘Animan’ was a cross-breeding of two creatures reincarnated into one unified piece of art.
It’s the first time that Dumlao is exhibiting his works in the land of his birth, having lived in the Hashemite Kingdom for the past 24 years. He continues to work as Creative and Design Supervisor at the Royal Protocol Office of His Majesty King Abdullah II in the Royal Palace at Amman, Jordan.
Like Dumlao, Nouri Agulto, 72, has lived a good many years serving royalty in Jordan. She was formerly with the Permanent Mission of Jordan to the United Nations, later working as secretary of the late Queen Alia of Jordan.
She came to the exhibit to lend support to Dumlao.
As the eldest in a brood of five, this Guiguinto, Bulacan native was already exposed to art at a very young age.
“I was still in the elementary grades when I started helping my father who ran a home-based silk screen and printing shop,” Dumlao related, adding that he also knew how to make an exotic lantern that he would enter in their school’s annual lantern-making contest.”
School was the Eulogio Rodriguez Elementary School, and later, the Rizal Technological Colleges in Mandaluyong in high school.
His father, Elpidio and his mother, Leticia, imbued in their eldest son a love for the arts and letters.
“My mother is a teacher and she is also a poet and a playwright. She would translate books from English to Pilipino,” he said.
In college, Dumlao enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), graduating in 1981 with a degree in Fine Arts, major in advertising. He immediately got hired as a contractual at the Philippine Refining Company, earning P150 a day, before transferring after a year to Republic Flour Mills (RFM) as a supervisor for outdoor advertising for P7,000 a month.
Married in 1984, Dumlao tried his luck as visualizer/illustrator at the Al Hadaf Advertising in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where he stayed for two years before going back to the Philippines in 1986.
“My first time in Saudi was a bad experience for me. I was under the employ of a bad-mannered Arab who gave us low wages,” he said.
Back in the Philippines, Dumlao made the rounds from 1986 to 1991, working as art director in various advertising companies—Dentsu, Young & Rubicam in Manila, Artishop in Makati, and Hemisphere-Leo Burnett, also in Makati.
In 1992, he again left for abroad and worked for a year as senior art director for Promoseyen-McCann Erickson in Jeddah.
“At first I had second thoughts about going back to KSA. I already had a baby at that time. But my officemate convinced me that my KSA experience was just what they required in the job,” he explained.
In 1994, he joined his officemate and moved to the McCann Erickson branch in Amman, Jordan.
Over the next 12 years, Dumlao handled some 50 prime accounts ranging from airlines, beverages, communication services, electronics, cars, insurance, tourist tours, watches, packed food, security systems, hotels, and trading companies.
He was also responsible for launching in Jordan the first public pay phones, first mobile network, first international fast food chain (McDonalds) and created several advertising campaigns for the Royal Jordanian Airlines for six consecutive years.
For his efforts, Dumlao won 16 gold, 11 silver and 12 bronze awards in various advertising competitions in Jordan, succeeding in making Promoseven-McCann Erickson Amman the number one Ad agency in the Kingdom of Jordan for sevem consecutive years.
Still, despite the numerous accolades and awards, Dumlao felt there was something missing in his life.
“I was a commercial artist for 12 years and in all that time, I wanted to be a visual artist. I had already participated in a group exhibit, but still had no one-man show. I was still looking for a break,” Dumlao said.
As luck would have it, his officemate, Al Sheriff Mohammad Alluhayqac, turned out to be a distant relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
“Al Sheriff is a title. It means ‘family of the Kingdom of Hashemite of Jordan,” Dumlao said, adding, “my officemate was asked by the King to work as Chief of the Protocols Office. As a loyal subject, he had to do the King’s bidding. A year later, in 2006, he asked me to work for him.”
At the Protocol’s office, Dumlao said he exerted himself, taking on jobs that normally would have required three or four people to do. He became the artist, creative director, and art director.
“I do all designs, from books to medals, even the official flags that the Protocol Office puts out. I also do logos of the military, We worked like an in-house advertising agency.”
To all these jobs, he found one task his most cherished and most demanding: contributing and upgrading the packaging of the most important brand in Jordan—His Majesty King Abdullah II.
It was Dumlao who did the portraits of the Royal Family that were given as gifts by the Protocol Office to invited guests. “I did the portrait of King Abdullah II, the Crown Prince of Jordan, and the late Prince Hussein. I based my portraits on their photographs. Some of the portraits are on display at the Protocol Office.
Still, despite the heavy load, Dumlao managed to find time to paint, sculpt, and do visual art. Work commenced from Sunday to Thursday. People went to church on Friday and Saturday was a free day.
In 2010, Dumlao had his first one-man exhibit, “Jordan through the Eyes of Elmer Dumlao,” held at the Zara Gallery in Amman. The exhibit, according to Dumlao, offered a unique perspective on Jordan’s history, culture, traditions, and beauty.
“My boss attended the first exhibit and invited princes and princesses to attend. All my works were sold out,” he enthused.
From that first exhibit to 2014, Dumlao mounted another six one-man-exhibitions: “Eye to Eye” (2011), artwork that reflected the connection between perception and feeling; “Animan” (2012), works that combined animals and man sharing similar behaviors, characteristics, feelings, and emotions; “Golden Dream” (2013), celebrating the ancient olive tree with works that depicted Jordan’s strong and deeply rooted heritage, culture, freedom, and humanity; “Paper Play” (2013), contemporary art pieces that creatively played with coffee cups, match boxes, photo papers, sand papers, tissue rolls, paper bags, magazines, and art paper, using the basic techniques of collage, painting, origami, and sculpture; “Animangels (2014), creatures of fantasy merged with man; and “Puzzles of Life,” (2017), 3D installations and paintings journey to the labyrinth world of multi-dimensional art.
In all these exhibits, the art piece “Inborn” is a ubiquitous presence. It is not for sale.
First shown in 2012 at the “Animan Series” held at the Zara Gallery in Amman, Jordan, “Inborn” is a fantastic merging of the body of a woman with the head of a horse shrouded in metal. Dumlao said the woman is a person-with-disability, hence the missing arm and leg.
“She may have been born incomplete, but she represents beauty beyond ugliness,” he said.”I take her to all my exhibits.”
Now approaching 57, and an art consultant of the King of Jordan, Dumlao has this advice for beginning visual artists: “I had thought it was already too late for me, having started so late in life. I didn’t start out as a visual artist. I went into advertising because I needed an income. But my feelings frothed with the need to express my art. The lesson is thus, never quit. Never lose sight of your art. Your time will come.” G