In the time of the beast

Chuchai by Anna Fer, gouache on paper

The title of the group show at Eskinita Gallery, “Sa Panahon ng Damuho,” sounds something lifted 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 who it is. Damuho has become the prescribed behavior of indecorum 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 such that the Filipino doesn’t seem to be the way I used to know him. I see a lot of ugliness, especially in social media. The language is appaling. 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, etcetera. 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 the Prince of the Air who is 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.”

This exhibit features four feminist artists who the 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.

Bangungot ng Mabuting Pastol by Imelda Cajipe Endaya, acrylic on textile collage and canvas

The other reason is the four women wanted a strong collective voice. Endaya said, “With democracy and rule of law on the coIIapse, there is this urgency to speak out as women and as artists our critical view of current Philippine society and governance.”

Her two canvases are her interpretations of extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and the planned ouster of CJ 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 buiIt on faith in our Maker and acting as co-creator/fighter for goodness, peace and social justice. This kind of women in governance, culture and community can lead our people towards a just and humane society.”

Asked if they consulted one another regarding the works they did for the show so there would be a common thread, she answered, “From the start, we decided to focus on the political situation of the day. We compared notes on how to attack only twice: Anna and Julie allude to Rizal’s life and work, Brenda and myself 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 of Imelda, Brenda and Anna and proud that they could come out so directly in their attacks on the present dispensation. More than that, I’m happy that beauty as an ideal in art is not compromised by the loudness and harsh content of the works. Art still prevails.”

Mga Anak Ko'y Pinapaslang by Julie Lluch, cold cast marble and acrylic .

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 in social media are intimately built into our personal space. They can affect our emotions and personal heaIth. For me, art-making is a meditative process or an aesthetic play, processes that make one a whole human being. The artist performing her/his social role is thus a giving back.”

Lluch said there are four artists exhibiting, not four women artists since male artists don’t define their gender when they have a show. Asked if this meant that the equality fought for by feminists has been achieved so that the description “women artists” can be dropped already, Endaya replied, “Yes and no. In terms of individual artistic capability and in numbers, feminism has achieved equality and ‘women’ in ‘women artists’ can be dropped already. But in times and circumstance like now, when chauvinist pigs in culture and politics are very much at play, the defense of womanly dignity and point of view continues to be urgent and important.”

Lluch agreed, saying, “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.”

Ang Lakas ng Sambayan Ang Sumira sa Malupit at Makapangyarihang Dragon by Brenda Fajardo, colored ink and pen on paper.

She added, “Definitely I would junk the reference to myself as a woman artist because it is ridiculous, as ridiculous as calling men ‘men artists.’”

Endaya agreed that Duterte has spoken and behaved as a misogynist who doesn’t respect women and considers them a threat to his administration, particular female officials in high offices. She said, “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, especiaIly the women, he acts ad hominem, acts 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 who has to ravage our land.”

“Sa Panahon ng Damuho” is on view until May 28 at Eskinita Art Gallery on the second floor, Makati Square, Chino Roces Ave., Makati City. An artists’ forum will be held on May 22.


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