Brenda Fajardo & Noel Soler Cuizon at Hiraya Gallery, Manila (1996)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Asian Art News, 6(6), page 88-9 in 1996.

Brenda Fajardo & Noel Soler Cuizon at Hiraya Gallery, Manila

In response to the centennial recognition of the beginning of the Filipino revolution in 1896, Hiraya Gallery’s recent show brought together two of Manila’s finest artists who approach the socio-political experience of Filipinos. Entitled Panapanabon (Seasonal repetition and change) , Brenda Fajardo and Noel Soler Cuizon present Filipino history and historical soul-searching, raise questions, and make historiographical statements with the selection and depiction of the subject matter of their work.

Brenda Fajardo

Brenda Fajardo made reference to four historical events— the Filipino Revolution, the subsequent American takeover, the Japanese invasion, and events on the island of Negros. In Mayroong Alipin Kung Mayroong Magpapaalipin (There will be slaves, if you allow yourself to be enslaved), 1996, Fajardo presents her historiographical agenda by depicting an event from the Revolution which is not very well-known to Filipinos, including those on the island of Negros. Here, Negros’ Papa Isio, representing the masses against Spain, is depicted in his role as a farm worker of a wealthy family on a hacienda, who led a small-scale armed struggle.

Brenda Fajardo presents her narrative in two ways. In the middle of the work, she illustrates her socio-realist statement using tempera and ink in a style influenced by Byzantine mosaics and the historical work of the Limbourg Brothers. As a means of reminding the viewer of the location of the event, an outline of the mao-like shape of Negros is imposed around Papa Isio, which also acts as a focal device and a sort of geo-political halo. Secondly, she reinforces her role as history educator by including a handwritten narrative, which begins above the visual depiction and continues below it, for those who may not be familiar with Isio’s role.

Noel Soler Cuizon

Drawing upon the same theme, Noel Soler Cuizon bases his work on a reinterpretation of the Filipino-derived Passion and revolution, which acts as the story of a popular Filipino activity, a play that reenacts Christ’s passion. In Sa Ayaw Makabatid (For someone who doesn’t want to be informed), Cuizon presents a composition influenced by the Filipino amting-amting (amulet), which in turn draws upon European sources.

In the center, a portrait of Bonifacio, who helped start the Revolution against the Spanish and who was executed, is portrayed with a religious quality. To this day, it is not known who executed the leader. Yet Noel Soler Cuizon awkwardly positions the frame above the mouth, suggesting the murderous silence imposed. At the same time, he suggests that we could be enlightened and that the executor may in fact be named.

At the top of the composition, from left to right, we see a Catholic bishop positioned with the golden arches of McDonald’s; a popular Filipino symbol of the sun; followed by the portrait of a local religious figure reputed to have a cult following. The old Filipino alphabet is delicately placed throughout. Meanwhile, below Bonaficio, the pierced heart of Christ (referring to the amulet) alludes to the plight of the Philippines, flanked by an indigenous Filipino and an old vendor from the late 19th century.

Brenda Fajardo and Noel Soler Cuizon seem to be approaching the same questions as other Asian artists facing social, economic and political changes as the 21st century approaches— where did we come from? Where are we now? Where are we going? Yet instead of buying into the psychological state of victimization, Fajardo and Cuizon opt for recognition, reconstruction and a positive rebirth.