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February 10, 2024 - March 2, 2024
In his latest exhibition, Hanap/Buhay, Elmer Borlongan masterfully captures the essence of honest labor, paying homage to those who toil closest to nature, the very source of our sustenance. The seven works act as individual or group depictions of workers in various trades, celebrating the dignity inherent in the daily lives of those who, though unsung, tirelessly put food on our plates, despite the threats of globalization and shifting socio-political terrains.
Borlongan’s profound connection to Zambales manifests in works that are set against the backdrop of its shores, seas, and sky as well as its landscape with a view of the Pundaquit mountains. In two separate paintings, fishermen proudly present their bountiful catch—the dorado and the majestic blue marlin. The vivid portrayal, with the long tail and snout of the marlin balanced on a stick, captures the symbiotic relationship between man and nature.
The solidarity of farmers is eloquently depicted in their shared pose, carrying bags of rice grain. Borlongan chose to paint them as larger-than-life, monumental, emphasizing their essential role in our food chain, reminding us of the interconnectedness of our lives with those who work the land. A different set of farmers, this time in a pineapple plantation, is depicted in a large-scale painting, with the conveyor belt diagonally cutting across the field, as the heads of pineapples rattle and tumble about.
From backdrops of nature, a shift to an urban setting introduces a vendor selling street food, reaching out for a coin as payment, or perhaps proffering it as sukli, or change. The viewer assumes the role of the buyer, subtly underscoring the shared human experience of hunger and the satisfaction that comes with satiation. Borlongan’s brushstrokes capture the color, heft, and texture of the different types of street food, from fishballs to siomai in a stick.
Because of Borlongan’s choice to situate his subjects within the broader context of the West Philippine Sea, the paintings, while exuding a sense of serenity, shine a spotlight on the precarious nature of the labor, especially that of our fishermen as they navigate not just the unpredictable waters but also geopolitical challenges.
The encroachment by foreign powers driving our fishermen from waters that are well within our Exclusive Economic Zone while pillaging the sea’s resources adds a layer of complexity to the narrative of paintings. The artist urges us to reflect on the importance of supporting local industries in our pursuit of food sustainability, as the very livelihoods depicted in his works face threats from beyond the horizon.
Hanap/Buhay testifies to Borlongan'ss ability to capture the essential humanity that is endowed on each and everyone of us, particularly those in the margins of society, the so-called laylayan where part of our population still labors hard to escape. Through Borlongan’s remarkable style and sensibility, the exhibition invites viewers to appreciate the dignity of work while urging us to contemplate the delicate balance between man, nature, and forces—inside and outside our shores—that shape our shared future.
Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
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