London-based artist Pio Abad’s recently concluded exhibit at the Ateneo Art Gallery was a most unusual one because while he focused on the plunder, excesses, ostentatious lifestyle, and insatiable greed of the Marcos dictatorship, he succeeded in his portrayal entirely through his art, with little need to have the actual objects presented for gawking. The power of his art lay in his transformation of “tangible opulence into another form of materiality—as cast, printed, etched, and painted objects.” All these were based on “factual evidence, photographs, auction catalogs, documents and archival records.”
The exhibit’s title, “Fear of Freedom Makes Us See Ghosts,” comes from Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” This theme strongly influenced and drove Abad’s work in the past decade as he explored the remembrance of what has been forgotten—worse, even expunged.
To Abad, this exhibit embraced both his personal and political journey, often difficult to set apart. A small old photo taken by his mother Dina opened it, showing his father Butch beside a painting in Malacañang on Feb. 25, 1986, hours after the Marcoses left. The Abads were part of the initial wave of protesters that entered the private chambers. The painting portrays Ferdinand Marcos as the mythical figure Malakas. He and his wife Imelda imagined themselves as the personification of the Malakas and Maganda myth.
It seemed that this radical way with his art was the most predictable way for Pio Abad to go, remembering how he grew up imbibing his parents’ activism and fight for justice and freedom, even to the point of incarceration.
Ryan and Saunders
The installation “The Collection of Jane Ryan & William Saunders” takes on the look of a museum, reconstructing an inventory of objects that include Old Master paintings, Regency-era silverware, Staffordshire porcelain, Louis IV-style furniture, and fine jewelry.
Accustomed to the standard hands-off museum regulation, I hesitated and wondered about the printed invitation to take all the postcards I wanted. These were specially printed by the artist, showing the art objects bought with the people’s money on one side and a news article about the plunder on the reverse side. The ones I took carried these articles: “The $10 Billion Question: What Happened to the Marcos Millions?” (The Guardian, Nick Davies, 7 May 2016) and “Missing Goya Found Amid Seized Art Trove of Show Queen Imelda Marcos” (news.artnet.com, Cait Munro, 16 April 2016).
Abad was joined in the exhibit by his wife, British jeweler Frances Wadsworth Jones, who fashioned 24 3D printed replicas of the jewelry collection brought by the Marcoses to the United States in 1986, known today as the Hawaii Collection. For the viewer to imagine the worth of each piece, powerful captions cited the exorbitant costs, made more maddening with their worth translated into these equivalents: the annual income of 15 ordinary Filipinos; medication for 12, 052 tuberculosis patients; 52,631 textbooks for Grades 11 & 12 students.
This was a challenging project for Wadsworth Jones to execute in resin, based solely on images from news footage and limited documents. Research and production for this exhibit took 10 years.
That small faded photo taken by his mother Dina in 1986 began and set the tone for the highlights of the exhibit. It was touching that it was, in a way, Dina’s view, and ended with the artist’s last two art works, acrylic on canvas both, dedicated to her, a son’s manifestation of coping with her loss in 2017. It is said that it was her loss that had driven this attempt at “imagining reparation, but also an exhausting, yet necessary, process of grieving.”
Other acrylics on canvas are memorials, elegies to leaders and activists, freedom lovers all, such as Karina David, Evelio Javier, Chito Gascon, Jesse Robredo, Dinky Soliman.
This exhibit is owned by Tate Modern of London and was reproduced with permission only to exhibit. A similar exhibit was bought by the Hawaii Museum of Art and the Dubai Art Center.
One left the gallery speechless and shocked at the shameless loot portrayed by the art, and sharing Abad’s insistence on “accountability and restitution, no matter how distant or imaginary.”
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is the founding director of Where the Write Things Are ([email protected]; Facebook.com/writethingsph; +63 945-2273216). —Ed.