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21-23 February 2020

The Link Carpark, Philippines

The Paradox of the Street and Self:

The Philippine streets are the main sites where social, political, and economic interactions play out. In the absence of large plazas in which people can congregate for one reason or another (to protest, to worship, to reach critical mass), they go to the streets. EDSA, for instance, is mythic for having been the stage of a couple of bloodless revolts. Quaipo, with its streets and alleyways, has an equal pull on the imagination of the nation. The bombing of Plaza Miranda was one of the reasons used in the declaration of Martial Law, which in turn led to a string of political actions.


This notable—and notorious—place in the capital remains as a nexus in which the forces of church, commerce, and contestation mingle and sometimes clash. Malls and shops in Carriedo all the way to Binondo and Divisoria jostle with street vendors who bet their lives for a chance to have a miniscule piece of the market. Folk religion, represented by self-appointed messiahs, sits side by side with the historic Quaipo Church where the beloved Black Nazarene is situated. Stalls selling herbs for the common and grave ills are framed by the imposing shadow of Mercury Drug.


It is these paradoxes that Guerrero Habulan captures in his solo exhibition, PARADOXIkalye. For the artist, these contrasting forces don’t create oppositional dichotomy, but rather “an ironic union of elements reflecting the contradictions of the Filipino psyche.” In a sense, Quiapo is its own universe, in which the seeming opposites could inhabit side-by-side: the past and the present, history and memory, the mundane and the supernatural. Perhaps there is no other place in the country that contains such a terrific number of competing impulses that have organically cohabitated for decades, if not centuries.


The common theme that runs through the works of Habulan is religious fervor, as represented by the Black Nazarene whose annual procession called Traslacion attracts millions. It appears to be the organizing principle that brings order to chaos, method to madness, pulling all the disparate threads together, not unlike the rope used by the devotees to tug the icon as they parade it through the street of Quaipo. The rich and the poor, the healthy and the ill, the hopeful and the hopeless find a shared meaning and devotion in the Black Nazarene.


No wonder that Habulan’s format of choice is the diptych which conveys seeming dualities: Eastern and Western influences, the sacred and the profane, the old and the new. However, each work already bears its own constellation of significations—the hand-painted details alongside the abstract swirls and stenciled elements, apparent wounds against indeterminate backgrounds, and, more strikingly, the figures of Habulan that “contain multitudes”—identities that share a locus on a singular body.


In presenting and highlighting these contradictions, Habulan underscores the crosscurrents and intersections of what constitute the Filipino identity. Quiapo, with all its extraordinary complications, is an apt metaphor, at once a visible and geographic symbol for all our hopes, longings, and aspirations. PARADOXIkalye poses that perhaps resolution is not the aim in terms of making sense of who and what we are in the collective but rather a radical willingness to find a home in the abounding paradoxes that hound the country in its post-colonial incarnation.   



- Carlomar Arcangel Daoana

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