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Life by Design


Up and around the circle in the spiral

Posted by Carren |

This event really excited me. Going through the different artworks, one can really see the progression of artists' viewpoints. It was 'history' and contemporary art sharing the same space.


The University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts (UPCFA) treads the path onward and upward by looking back into 3 decades of UPCFA educators’ artistry

Text by: Carren Jao
Photos by: Catherine Jao
Published: MEGA October 2008

A Circle Begins
Pen touches paper and slides sinuously ‘round the surface, seemingly returning to whence it came.

1908-- the birth of University of the Philippines. Its first child? The UP College of Fine Arts (UPCFA). It was birthed to give life and flight to the wilderness that lay inside the minds of the Philippines’ young artists.

The clock’s hands sweep onward to 2008, a full century after UPCFA’s birth, and a new breed of contemporary Filipino artists have slowly but surely emerged, many of them brandishing the unmistakable maroon and forest green colors of the University of the Philippines.

The numbers cannot lie. 87 out of 146 Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists awardees, deemed the new generation of Filipino modernist artists, are University of the Philippines (UP) graduates. 36 out of the 146 recipients were once UP educators.

In Transmissions, curated by UPCFA’s Professor Leo Abaya, these artists of the present are acknowledged for their work, expanding the minds of students and viewers alike. As one-time UP educators and recipients of the prestigious CCP Thirteen Artists Award, they most fully embody UPCFA’s onus to nurture artistic minds into the ebb and flow of an ongoing human history.

Moving to a new plane
As black ink slithers across the page, nearing its mark, it jolts and moves onto a new plane. Once again repeating the process, ‘round and ‘round. We are now on a higher plane, where more is expected.

In the Main Gallery of the CCP, a bright yellow signboard printed with celebrated names from the Philippines art scene announces one’s arrival at the opening of Transmissions. Spanning three decades (since the inception of the CCP Thirteen Artists Awards), one basks in the visual dynamism radiated by the works on the walls and floors of Bulwagang Juan Luna, an exhibition room in CCP.

Through the works of these artists, one realizes that Filipino art is not just about painted water buffaloes and romanticized renderings of mother and child anymore; it has reached a point of experimentation, depicting a concept in its most abstract and immediate nature.

Nap Jamir II’s Natutulog lang yan I and II – torn newspapers and dirt strewn over black and white photocopies of lifeless faces- seem to echo the sad stories littered on Philippine streets. On the other side of the wall, the late Sid Gomez Hildawas’s Xerox of your smile revisited stood in contrast, welcoming the viewer with fifty-six Styrofoam cups bearing unmistakable smiling bite marks.

On the corner floor, Agnes Arellano’s Eshu immediately grabs attention. Originally made for the Havana Biennial in 1997, its image of Eshu, Cuba Santéria’s Lord of Crossroads, depicts Agnes’ own struggle for life in the face of destruction (giving up alcohol in order to save her liver). “The forces of life and death are polarized by the trident of life that she clutches in her left hand, and the vices that make life pleasurable but bring death closer, in the right,” explains Agnes.

In the middle of the exhibition room, a DVD player and TV set are perched atop a bare white mattress. The TV, flashing halting images of the morning, echo the artwork’s title, “It’s morning, where are you?” Now in its third incarnation, artist Ringo Bunoan tries to “photograph space” and to capture the “gray area between waking and sleeping” by continually coming back to this installation piece again and again – each time reworking and tweaking essential elements. “You have to update yourself to be relevant to the times,” says Ringo, akin to the task at hand for the minds at UPCFA.

Seeking higher ground
Again and again, the mark draws near. The pen moves, closer and closer- but misses- not because there is no purpose, but because there is a need to go on. Thus, pen forsakes closure, spiraling ever higher.

While one can see the distinct developments in Philippine contemporary in Transmissions, Prof. Abaya is quick to counter that it also serves to “remind us of what we’ve missed, what we lack, and what needs to be done if we are to be relevant a hundred years from now.” Ringo echoes this message, saying of the exhibit, “Don’t take it as representative of UP, as representative of Thirteen Artists Awards. It’s a survey, always incomplete.”

Amidst the fanfare, UP’s centennial celebration is also an occasion for this distinguished institution to take stock of itself, casting a cold, hard glance at the institution it has become. It is challenged to open itself up to change, knowing that to be present in the future, one has to constantly push against the forces of inertia.

UP will hold its centennial activities until December 2008.
For more information, please check their website at:


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