Curated by Birgit Zimmermann
Words by Roy Voragen
Some countries are only deemed newsworthy by our parochial media when a president says something outlandish or when a volcano erupts, these media snippets lack therefore forever a context in which we could embed a bridge to a possible future understanding and empathy or even an engagement and support. GZK has been engaging with one such country for the past couple of decades: the Philippines. The exhibition THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD shows works by five prominent artists from the Philippines who actively engage with pressing political issues: each of these five artists has developed an aesthetics that fits their ethics, a poetry that befits their politics. The five artists are Kiri Dalena, Cian Dayrit, Manny Montelibano, Nikki Luna and Dexter Sy. And they fight both injustice as well as fatalism (that nothing can be done against injustice).
Kiri Dalena (Manila, 1975) studied human ecology at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, after which she studied 16mm documentary film at Mowelfund Film Insitute in Quezon City. Her work has been featured in various international exhibitions and film festivals, including the Manila Biennial (2018), SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 1980s to Now at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2017), at JIWA: Jakarta Biennial (2017), as well as the Busan Biennial (2016) and the Visions Du Reel Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland (2014). Dalena’s work is featured in the collections of the Lopez Museum and Library in Manila, the Singapore Art Museum, the M+ Museum Hong Kong and the Queensland Art Gallery. The artist lives and works in Manila and Mindanao.
Kiri Dalena is an artist, filmmaker and activist who fights for human rights in the midst of state persecution. She is a founding member of Resbak – Respond and Break the Silence Against the Killings – which documents and distributes data on Duterte’s so-called war-against-drugs that disproportionally affects the urban poor. Dalena is well-known for her series Erased Slogans; from the archive of the Lopez Museum and Library she collects protest images from Marcos’ martial law era and from these images she erases the slogans from the placards (the slogans she collects in various books.). Dalena’s work is a scream against the silencing – the loss of memory enables and perpetuates violence.
Cian Dayrit (Manila, 1989) studied at the art school of the University of the Philippines. He was awarded the Ateneo Art Awards in 2017 and the Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists Awards in 2018. He has shown his work at home: Bellas Artes Outpost; the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum; Metropolitan Museum; Lopez Museum and Library; Cultural Center of the Philippines. He participated in the New Museum Triennial Songs for Sabotage in New York and Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh, as well as in group exhibitions at ParaSite, Hong Kong, Hammer Museum, L.A., and IFAN Museum of African Arts in Dakar. Dayrit recently completed a residency at Gasworks, London.
He works in painting, sculpture, tapestry and installation. And he is a member of SAKA, Artist Alliance for Land Reform and Rural Development in the Philippines. Dayrit’s work deals with the impacts of the globalized economy and its powerful ideology (including the use of coded language, e.g. visualized in maps, tools to conquer and occupy territories rich in resources) on the spaces of everyday life.
Mariano – Manny – G. Montelibano III (1971) lives and works in Bacolod, province of Negros Occidental, Philippines. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City, where he is currently Director of the Institute of the Moving Image. He also received his training through experience as a technical director at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod and various film projects. He is an active cultural worker in the Philippines, especially in the Visayas region, affiliated with various organizations such as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines, Black Artists in Asia Association and VIVA ExCon Organization. He received the Garbo sa Bisaya Award at the VIVA ExCon 2016. In the Philippines, his works have been exhibited in the National Museum of the Filipino People, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Museo Iloilo, Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibit and Conference, the University of the Philiippines Vargas Museum, 1335MABINI, Museo Negrense de La Salle, Fort Santiago-Intramuros and at the Ateneo Art Gallery where his work is represented in the collection. He has also been part of exhibitions in South Korea, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, USA, France and around Southeast Asia.
Boxed Out is a continuation from his work A Dashed State, presented in the 56th Venice Biennale at the Philippine Pavilion titled Tie a String around the World, curated by Dr. Patrick Flores in 2015. Since then, the world has changed. Boxed Out reassesses the ongoing issue of intimidation, incursion and territory grabbing. The People’s Republic of China aims to unilaterally redefine borders in its favor – for example by redrawing maps by, what is called, the vaguely demarcated Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. An international recognition of this demarcation would have a huge impact on global transport, trade, fishery and, also, military presence – and thus also the global economy and peace. The Republic of the Philippines took the matter to the International Court of Arbitration in Den Hague, the Netherlands. And the Court unanimously ruled in the Philippines’ favor on July 12, 2016. However, the current Philippine government decided to change course. Montelibano considers this a violation of justice. Boxed Out investigates the change of course towards international alliances, territorial politics, definitions of new symbolic languages and populism as an answer to moral uncertainty in regards to the South China/West Philippine Sea issue.
Nikki Luna (Manila, 1977) studied art at the University of the Philippines, and she is currently undertaking her masters in Women and Development Studies at the same university. She received the prestigious Chevening Award to conduct a master in Art and Education at Goldsmiths, the University London, UK. In 2018 she authored the book I Love my Body to raise body awareness among young girls (the book is published by Power in Her Story). In 2016, she was the recipient of a grant from the Asian Cultural Council. She exhibits her work at home (Cultural Center of the Philippines; the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum; Lopez Museum and Library) and abroad (Aichi Triennale, Japan; Singapore Biennale; Beijing Biennale).
Feminism – as discourse as well as lived practice – informs her research, advocacy for women human rights as well as her artistic practice. For example, the starting point of Luna’s work Female Fighter is a quote from Duterte, the current president of the Philippines. He told soldiers active in Mindanao, which is under martial law, to shoot women in the vagina, and without it they become ‘useless’. This utter disrespect for women and the integrity of their bodies brings two things to the foreground: firstly, the body of women – wives, daughters, sisters – is always already politically charged, no matter how private; secondly, bodies of noncombatants are made part of armed conflicts, even though this is in violation of the Geneva Convention.
Dexter Sy (Manila, 1979) is a Fine Arts graduate from the Far Eastern University. Since 2005, he has had solo exhibitions and he has also participated in numerous group exhibitions in China, Italy, Japan, Germany, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the United States. In 2011, 2012 and 2015, he took part in the Haslla International Open Air Museum Residency Program and the Haslla Art World Museum in Korea. He has received numerous awards, including the Grand Prize at the Art Competition of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation in 2004, and in 2016 the Grand Prize in the Philippine Art Awards. Currently, he is a lecturer in fine arts at the Far Eastern University in Manila.
Sy artistically approaches the cultural particularities of being a Filipino of Chinese descent. Can we escape from the vicious cycle of self-inflicted colonialism? Will we be able to formulate a constructive Pinoy identity? Sy calls out to raise questions concerning Pinoyness: what is the meaning and value of Pinoy culture? Where do we come from? Where can we go from here? Can we love ourselves if we keep attempting to emulate what is essentially foreign? How can we make a stand in an era of globalization and neo-imperialism? To conclude: has the degree of self-harm already come to a point that a sensible sense of Pinoy culture has been destroyed already or is there still hope?