Art in the time of the beast
The title of the group show at Eskinita Gallery, “Sa Panahon ng Damuho,” sounds like something out of the Book of Revelations. That isn’t such a stretch, said visual artist Imelda Cajipe Endaya, who defined damuho as “a savage, evil beast.”
“I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but damuho has become prescribed behavior because there are many damuho in power. They set the bad example, leading our country to injustice and chaos.”
The coming of the beast in sculptor Julie Lluch’s eyes is her “sense of a pall of darkness descending like a sinister spell cast upon our land, changing the people. I see a lot of ugliness, especially on social media. The language is appalling. There’s too much malice, vulgarity, belligerence, hatred, falsehood. Out on the streets, corners and alleys, the killings go on unabated, mostly of poor Filipinos—pedicab drivers, vendors, drug addicts. The lust for blood continues to this day.”
She defined damuho as “the author of the culture of indecency and brutality whose mouth has issued the inspiration of his minions to kill and kill. ‘I’ll be happy to kill a million drug addicts,’ he pronounced at the beginning of his rule. Out of the mouth come the issues of the heart, the Bible says.”
She added, “Words are powerful tools of Satan himself. The bad mouth of the damuho has polluted air waves, poisoned media and the minds of the people. We, four artists, have identified President Duterte as the very personification of the damuho.”
Worked as a team
This exhibit features four feminist artists who next generations look up to: Endaya, Lluch, Brenda Fajardo and Anna Fer. In decades past, the four have worked as a team in many ways. In the past few years, other curators have been trying to bring them to exhibit together again, but not until Renato Habulan’s efforts, with his idea of exposing their works to benefit young artists that he and Alfredo Esquillo are mentoring in Eskinita Gallery, did the four agree to a show.
The other reason is the four women wanted a strong collective voice. Endaya said, “With democracy and rule of law on the collapse, there is this urgency to speak out as women and as artists on our critical view of current Philippine society and governance.”
Her two canvases are her interpretations of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. “Bangungot ng Mabuting Pastol” opposes EJKs, and her note on it states, “Every person’s life is precious. Even with the Good Shepherd, even if just one sheep is lost, he will leave the rest and look for the lost one and save it.”
As for “Mga Babae sa Panahon ng Damuho,” Endaya said, “I have chosen my feminism to consist of a belief in feminine power and strength built on faith in our maker, and acting as cocreator for goodness, peace and social justice. This kind of women in governance, culture and community can lead our people toward a just and humane society.”
Asked if they consulted one another regarding the works, she answered, “From the start, we decided to focus on the political situation of the day. We compared notes only twice: Anna and Julie allude to Rizal’s life and work, Brenda and I see dragons and devils at work beneath the political mire.”
When faced with her co-artists’ works, Lluch was “delightfully surprised and shocked, not just by the boldness and courage but by the sheer power and beauty of the pieces. I was in awe of the paintings and proud that they could come out so directly in their attacks.”
When challenged to reiterate the role of visual artists in the time of the beast, and how to merge the personal with the political, Endaya responded, “Political events, wars, disasters, their news and debates on social media are intimately built into our personal space. Art-making is a meditative process or an aesthetic play, processes that make one a whole human being. The artist performing her or his social role is thus a giving back.”
Lluch said there are four artists exhibiting, not four women artists. Asked if this meant that the equality fought for by feminists has been achieved so that the description “women artists” can be dropped, Endaya replied, “Yes and no. In terms of individual artistic capability and in numbers, feminism has achieved equality. But in times and circumstance like now, when chauvinist pigs in culture and politics are very much at play, the defense of womanly dignity continues to be urgent.”
Lluch agreed: “The equality that feminists fight for may never be achieved. It has been said that a carefully and perfectly balanced society where men and women enjoy equal rights and opportunities is utopian—a product of wishful thinking. But we continue the struggle and celebrate every victory along the way.”
Endaya agreed that Duterte has spoken and behaved as a misogynist. “That the President doesn’t respect women and considers them a threat is just too plain to see. He rules above the law, and if anyone opposes him, especially the women, he acts ad hominem, to eliminate them.”
Lluch emphasized the role of artists “to be bearers of truth and justice in the time of persecution. Artists are called to take up the cudgels for the weak, the voiceless and the innocent. When they do nothing, they will become enablers of the damuho.” —CONTRIBUTED
“Sa Panahon ng Damuho” is on view until May 28 at Eskinita Art Gallery, 2/F Makati Square, Chino Roces Ave., Makati City. An artists’ forum will be
held on May 22.
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