A Seat at the Table: BOOK 1 

Curated by Renato Habulan
January 15, 2022 - February 05,2022

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YOU CAN SIT WITH US by Kaye O’Yek

 

In times of great difficulty, art has always been a balm to anxiety-filled days and nights, helping artists transform nervous energy into creative production, and a vent for silent, creeping panic. We are still under the clutches of strict restrictions in mobility due to the global health crisis, and are made aware everyday of differences in economic standing with the challenges brought about by seeking appropriate health care and in some households, a pronounced decrease in income. At times, keeping mental health intact meant taking a pause from social media and resisting the urge to munch on imaginary popcorn while watching authority figures make exponentially huge blunders one after the other, as keyboard warriors take sides and defend their champions to the death, or at least until their prepaid unli data coughs out its last kilobyte.

 

It was a defensive move, perhaps a way of protecting one’s own, when a group of artists came together and joined a platform that meant having online discussions late into the night and rare face to face outings, dissecting current events and giving periodic wellness checks while encouraging each other to keep doing art, no matter the deficiencies in resources and other challenges. It is the new normal, indeed, and supporting each other to cope with changes takes a village. Or at least a Zoom room.

 

A Seat At The Table: Book One, curated by Renato Habulan, is an exhibition almost a year in the making. In line with Agos Studio’s vision of a principled art ecosystem, mid-career visual artists participating in the “scene” were given new venues of expression, in verbal discussions and now, a collection of recent works. An integral part of the discourse meant laying personal histories and concerns bare while the Whys of artmaking were examined in detail and the Hows were given comparable importance. Roundtable discussions meant equal footing, because every individual had something to bring to the table.

 

Demosthenes Campos dwells into dividing space effectively via a minimal composition in striking fields of color in his mixed media creation. Lotsu Manes depicts a pillar of the transportation industry given his due and honored as the protector and ruler of his realm. Caloy Gernale continues his airbrushed imaginings of a calendar, with a holiday meant especially for undesirables whose personalities are wiped exceptionally clean come election season. Grace Corpuz presents a powerful visual manifestation of fascist machinations concealed by elaborate ornamentation misleading the deluded masses. This author’s humble contribution to the exhibition is a play on smoke and shadows as engagement with body politics and feminine pride. Eugene Cubillo’s female form seems to be caught in a quandary as she experiences a change of heart and worried doubts. Mel Cabriana replaces a crown of thorns with a crown of fronds, stressing nature’s nurturance and man’s role in its protection and continued sustenance. Kirby Roxas illustrates the flipsides of an uncluttered road with congested city streets, living in both locations punctuated by clear skies despite power lines crisscrossing.

 

Eric Guazon provides a take on the fragility of a child’s sense of self seemingly reverse engineered by torn pieces of fast food messaging that help make up a growing vocabulary and the beginning of immersion in capitalism and corporate propaganda. Jessa Balag’s children are encouraged to reach for the stars and follow their dreams, supported and surrounded by an environment of loving adults who guide them towards the right path. Melvin Culaba presents a diptych filled with common objects found around one’s home, as his subject, an innocent figure both precious and precocious, learns along the way through the toys he interacts with. Thomas Daquioag echoes a child at play in his shaped canvas painting, with birds and animals serving as steadfast companions like in a Disney movie. His second piece, however, takes animals to a more sinister setting as they appear to take part in a hunting expedition. For Anthony Victoria, the etching of a skull on aluminum with font in a familiar flourish gives a sense of foreboding to addiction and over indulgence. Tyrone Dave Espinosa’s many-eyed spectral figure is inlaid on solid wood, showing fragments of memory and remembrance of what is seen, and Wesley Valenzuela’s multilayered serigraph takes us through a convoluted journey from adoration to temptation and repentance to salvation, faith carrying an individual beyond the material trappings of society.

 

A Seat At The Table: Book One is truly an interesting chapter to view and reflect on, as these artists turn over a new leaf, their collective experiences, mastery of their individual techniques and convictions in artmaking presented to the public. An open discourse seems to be at hand, with constant learnings to be cultivated in each form, feeling, and soul. Next pages, phases, and volumes, please.