25 July 2020
25 July — 15 August
Ribbons of Flesh, Arbitrary Crowns
The art of portraiture has long traced its roots to nobility (particularly the monarchy and the Church), for what demographic would be able to commission an artist to paint their likeness than the prosperous elite? Hence, many of the portraits from the Renaissance Period onwards were people in power who, in fact, saw that being painted was a way to dramatize that power. Most of the time strictly formal and unsmiling, swaddled in precious materials such as silk, fur, and gold and bearing the attributes of their profession and place in society, they were figures of beauty and majesty, beaming from their privileged perch in art, staring god-like at the mortal viewer.
In his series of works, Other People, Julius Claveria Redillas references this type of portraiture centering around people of prestige. Rather than painting them in stark verisimilitude, the artist represents these figures as clumps of ribbons of flesh, peering through malevolent eyes, set against a single-color background. Their clothes, that would have mirrored their importance, are reduced to floating silhouettes of white, which intensely frame the monstrous face.
Despite Redillas’ violent distortion of their image, these figures—some dead, some alive—are remarkably identifiable. It is the subversion of their iconic stature that this exhibition exemplifies, their well-curated fame. Now, they are no longer the perfumed, prestigious versions of themselves but their horrifying counterparts, generating not awe but disgust. What makes them contemptible is the power that they have sought to naturalize as pre-ordained and good is exposed as an instrument of abuse and subjugation. Their self-mythologized grandeur is false. The crown that sits on their heads is paper-thin and holds no authority. (Coincidentally, the crown as a symbol has gained a more sinister association lately: the virus that has caused the pandemic is called the novel coronavirus, because its spikes resemble the structure of a crown.)
In this age of selfies, social media, and self-promotion, Other People exposes the falsity of self-representation. Everything is surface and spectacle. The reverence we accord people of seeming importance is a result of the manufacture of the image and not some God-given beneficence. (Odious personalities, such as politicians who get photographed holding babies, know this only too well.) Rather than affirming our shared humanity, the image distances the figure from the rest of us: they belong to an inaccessible sphere. By painting these figures as masses of exposed flesh, Redillas evaporates away their mystique and glamour and presents the sordidness of their exclusivity, privilege, and illusory power, which, unfortunately, have caused and are still causing real suffering in the world. “Other people” are just people like us, only with the audacity to set on their heads puny, arbitrary crowns.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana