Denizens of the art scene would know Sining Kamalig—said to be the oldest running art gallery in the Philippines. It was first set up in 1972 at Shop6 in Pasay before transferring to Gateway Mall at Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City.
Those not so familiar with the venues for exhibits of Filipino artists, however, might find its present location unfamiliar and unthought of.
Located at the second level of the old and time-faded Ali Mall, also at the Araneta Center, Sining Kamalig has none of the poshness of commercial galleries one finds in Makati and EDSA Shangri La.
The art gallery is at the corner end of a long corridor of stores, a few meters away from the ladies’ and men’s rooms, which is quite convenient for those who may need to relieve themselves.
It is a rectangular, single room with a bare, dark gray vinyl floor and white walls where one can display art work. A small, partly hidden corner on the right shelters the artists and Dutch national Juliet Kwee who helps run Sining Kamalig.
“Taga-Nethelands ako [I am from the Netherlands],” Kwee said. She has been in the country for 11 years, adding that she came to the Philippines to help the poor. “I wanted to do something different, to change the world.”
Quipped Kwee: “We are based in Ali Mall so that normal people can enjoy art. We want to bring art to the people.”
She also said that the “vision of Sining Kamalig is for art to stimulate critical thinking.”
That afternoon, the gallery was featuring “Punctum,” an exhibit of five graduate student-artists from the Advanced Photography class of Marc San Valentin, chair of the Visual Communication Department, College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
Graduate student and artist Geri Matthew Carretero said their works are not necessarily photographs or printed images per se. “We are more on concepts of image making and photography; images created beyond the use of the camera. There are installations, videos, and mixed media.”
As explained in a small, square note on the exhibit wall: “Individual identity, experience, and collective memory are oftentimes imagined, constructed, and transformed in photography that turn into dialogues which are grounded on the artists’ exploration on the idea of continuity, movement of getting to and out of places, of families, of identities in space and of the self in place. The works in this exhibit show the reflections and conversations of the artists’ selves, of memory, of identity, of representation and intervention in art which are distinct points in image-making and image meaning.”
Carretero’s work focused on the slums in Tondo, Manila. Black and white photos of urban poor folk with a stream of bright cut-outs traversing twin frames, some landing on the faces of the poor.
“I took these photos when I was still working at the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). I did photo manipulation and collage. The paper cut outs symbolize the points of origin or territories of the people in the photos. It’s because I wanted to show migration, how people travel from one place to another. Those cutouts represent territories. Migration and displacement is a world-wide phenomenon,” Carretero said.
I told him the cutouts reminded me of the EDSA People Power Revolution that promised a better life for the poor folk in the photos; their unfinished dreams contained in the cutouts landing on their cheeks and faces.
Carretero smiled, perhaps to say that the message of the artwork resonate differently from person to person.
The students in the exhibit were also asked to interpret the works of their classmates in the form of another art work.
A fellow student interpreted Carreteros’ slum diaspora by focusing on what is inside each broken-down house. But instead of coming up with another dark representation of poverty, this artist produced a colorful bedsheet with well lined-up toys tucked in an equally colorful blanket, with slippers of little children on the side.
“I do not know of a slum child owning such happy-looking, clean sheets and cute toys. Even the slippers, new and bright-colored, did not speak of the poor,” I said.
CHILD PHOTOS, TOYS
Jenny Suarez posted a photo album of her child. Entitled “Recollection,” it captured the child in the process of growing up, from the time of birth to the present toddler stage. The mixed media presentation focused on family and memory.
Yan Gallegos said he had three art works in the exhibit, all revolving around the concept of identity. Toys figured prominently in one, the toys of his children.
“The photographic concept I used is the difference between the camera lens and the human eye. The camera lens are the eyes of the mature person, who sees only old toys jumbled together. But the eyes of a child will see this differently. The toys—jackstone, cars, lego toys—will evoke memories of playing and fun,” Gallegos said.
Another Gallegos work is the “Persona Collective,” phalanx after phalanx of matryoshka dolls ranged ten times ten to total a hundred Russian nesting dolls.
Explained Gallegos: “I invited 100 people to submit some of their personal belongings which I placed inside the dolls. I sealed each doll with children’s test papers. The message of the artwork is concealment of identity. What one sees is the outward appearance. The test paper symbolizes how people assess our outside selves.”
FOOD, FATHER, MOTHER
Chen Breva was pregnant when she took the advanced photography class. Her final work was a chronology of food she ate during her 30 weeks of pregnancy. Each small photo of the food was scanned and printed on sticker paper before being placed on a horizontal aluminum sheet symbolizing a tray.
Another Chen Breva work was a mixed-media presentation of the face representation of her Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) father.
According to Gallegos, his pregnant classmate did not know much about her father who was sent away by her mother. “All Chen knew about his father were based on stories from different people. Thus, her work is interactive. You can stick paper on the face to make a complete photo. But even if you complete the photo, the varying colors and the shape will keep the face fragmented, kind of the way Chen remembers her father.”
One striking mixed media was executed by Em Adarayan. It contained a rolled tape measure, cloth, strings—things that remind one of a sewer, which was the occupation of Adarayan’s mother. Below the collection is a lamp that when lit forms a shadow over the sewing kit. The shadow is the face of a woman, Adarayan’s mother.
Overall, the artworks mirrored the very personal thoughts of its artists. It is an enforced journey dictated by the demands of art class. But the final output flowed with the freedom of mind, wit, and emotion—all too personal and too near.
The Punctum exhibit was shown for a week at Sining Kamalig.