SQUARE METERS

Jonathan Joven

February 27 - March 20, 2021

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A House of One’s Own

 

Owning a house may be the most common dream of many Filipinos—and probably the most elusive. A look at Metro Manila will reveal pockets and swathes of informal settlement proliferating despite the measures that seek to control them. Demolition, relocation, and balik-probinsya program are just some of the interventions employed to curb what many people consider as urban blight. The root cause of squatting, which is poverty, is harder to address, hence the preference for band-aid solutions that invariably don’t last. Heartbreaking it may be to assume, the problem of homelessness will continue to persist.

 

This social phenomenonon, addressed differently by the administrations that have come to pass, is seen through a much intimate and personal lens in the exhibit, Square Meters, by Jonathan Joven. The artist has the authority to speak about this matter. After all, he and his family once lived in Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila—the quintessential picture of informal settlement—battling the constant anxiety of being evicted from their makeshift home, with only the slimmest of hope of ever calling a house their own.

 

On architectural blueprints repurposed (or, as the artist calls it, “upcycled”) as ground for his paintings, Joven depicts the aspirations of someone wanting to own a home despite, or because of, the dire conditions that he faces. “Frontage,” for instance, depicts the sculptures and figures that someone has dreamed of installing in front of their house, to convey their faith, religiosity, or simply their sense of whimsy. Greek columns, Madonna and Child, and even The Hulk are arrayed alongside each other, their function as decoration waiting in-the-wing for the homeowner who finds beauty and purpose on them. For the work, “Occupants,” it is the carved wooden furniture that seduce the attention of a potential homeowner as they convey status symbol and the seemingly impeccable taste of anyone who has the sense—and purchasing power—to display them.

 

A much grittier take on the fevered desire of ownership is evoked by the work, “Adjacent.” It is a painting of a cart, covered with all sorts of sheets, carefully applied on top of the structure to protect whoever inhabits it from the punishing heat and rain. A pail and a water jug are seen hanging onto its sides to carry the most basic of provisions. Despite its patched-up condition and how it can easily be confiscated or destroyed by people in authority, the cart signifies someone’s wish to have and control their own domain, using whatever available material to construct something that resembles shelter.

 

In a painting titled, “Condominium,” Joven depicts the relocation site of those whose houses were demolished in Smokey Mountain. Called Katuparan Condominium, as if to emphasize how the dream of owning a house has finally been “fulfilled,” the structure is composed of four floors and with an accompanying rooftop. Because of the continuing poverty and expansion of families of those living there, the condominium has become rundown through time, becoming another eyesore and an informal settlement, which necessitates the transfer of the inhabitants to another location. The painting underscores the cycle of poverty that seems inescapable to many.

 

Square Meters is Joven’s way of looking back into his former home and how it has shaped him to become the person—and inevitably, the artist—that he is. His observations about the life in the slums allow the viewer to have a glimpse of the desires and dreams of those society seems to have forgotten, as they keep body and soul together under a roof that leaks and reveals a portion of a sky.

 

-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana