Arts Music Culture

A Narrative of the Times

Tales of struggle, liberation, and change. Such tales comprise the narrative aesthetically conceived in Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s The Philippine Contemporary: to Scale the Past and the Possible exhibition. A permanent display which opened on February 8, 2013, the Philippine Contemporary launches the museum’s “new strategic direction to integrate a heightened focus on modern and contemporary art by Philippine and foreign artists.”

Pre-colonial art forms such as pottery, basketry, textiles, mats, and woodcarving were formed out of the fusion of artistic design and practical use. When the Spaniards came, indigenous art was replaced by churches, statues of saints, retablos, and priestly garbs, along with some paintings by Jose Dans and Esteban Villanueva. However, it is the rise of the Illustrados that has given birth to a monumental change in the art scene. This period saw Philippine art in the midst of international trade, liberal ideals, and the opening of Suez Canal. Illustrado art patronage consequently gave rise to revolutionary, secular art bearing reformist sentiments.

Those who were associated with the academia such as Amorsolo, Luna, Torres, and Asuncion opted for the classical and romantic, while the miniaturist artists took extra time in the smallest details in portraiture and embroidery. Expatriates Luna and Hidalgo turned to the canvas of political imports. All of these were a complementary blend of patriotism and cosmopolitanism.

Some of the emerging trends at this period were the ones produced by the UP College of Fine Arts: Fabian dela Rosa’s signature use of cool colors, Fernando Amorsolo’s ever-smiling dalagang Pilipina with a backdrop of landscapes and horizons, and his counterpart, Guillermo Tolentino’s fluid sculptures. The later works of Anita Magsaysay Ho like the bandana-wearing women added to the picturesque panorama of the simplistic rural life.

“The Cooks” by Anita Magsaysay Ho (1952)

Modernist came and battled with the tradition with its philosophy of incorporating not only the beautiful but also the ugly. Such modernists were Victorio Edades, Galo Ocampo, and Carlos Fransisco, with Ocampo’s brown Madonna and flagellant series as prominent representatives.

Following this theme is Vicente Manansala’s transparent cubism which explored the grim social realities with his work showcasing the slums. In his painting, Beggars (1952), distorted images of slum dwellers depict the bleak life in poverty against the backdrop of industrialization.

“Beggars” by Vicente Manansala (1952)

Social realism has since become a favorite theme in Philippine art. As pointed out by Alice Guillermo, realism in Philippine social realism is not a stylistic term, but a shared point of view which seeks to expose the true conditions of Philippine society as well as to point out solutions by which these conditions are changed and transcended to achieve a truly human order.

In the face of national threat in the form of Martial Law, Antipas Delotavo encapsulated the very essence of industrialization in his poignant masterpiece Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan (1978), where the serif in the logo of an imperialist icon has stabbed the fragile body of the Filipino.

“Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan” by Antipas Delotavo (1978)

Running simultaneously with social realism is the recurring theme of ethnic traditions. Philippine contemporary art is at its heart the imbedded local culture. From Jose Blanco’s Manggagata (1957) to Nestor Leynes’ Pitong Gatang (1974), Philippine customs have been powerfully featured in various forms of art.

“Manggagata” by Jose Blanco (1957)
“Pitong Gatang” by Nestor Leynes (1974)

In 1983, Imelda Cajipe-Endaya created her mesmerizing mural entitled Pasyong Bayan presenting the petrifying experience of witnessing a passion play from the eyes of the community members.

“Pasyong Bayan” by Imelda Cajipe-Endaya (1983)

The heightening of globalization has sown seeds of diversity in the artistic landscape of the Philippines, creating a wide variety of styles, elements, medium, and sentiments. Hence, visual arts—and any art form for that matter—has thrived in the concepts of “pag-aangkop” and “pag-aangkin.” Like in the Philippine theater scene, where plays showcased were originally written by foreigners or have western origins, art was endeavored to be appropriated, adjusted, adapted and interpreted to suit the context of Philippine society.

20th century brought with it the burgeoning fad of nationalism. In a world order that transforms everything to be like everything else, it is the greatest challenge to secure a national identity. Artists began to dig indigenous roots. In 1997, Roberto Feleo utilized sawdust, powdered egg shells and white glue to bring to life Tao-Tao: Bukidnon Myth of Creation.

“Tao-Tao: Bukidnon Myth of Creation” by Roberto Feleo (1997)

The emerging popularity of nationalism today can be attributed to this generation’s desire to affirm their identity as Filipinos. The search for one’s national identity becomes even more important in the face of globalization and massive diaspora. The Philippines’ colonial experience, coupled with social realities keeping the country in a perpetual state of crisis, has fractured the Filipino’s identity. And the need to tackle this identity is borne out of the necessity to craft such narrative across epochs and genres. After all, it is the times that have always shaped Philippine art.

“Wood Things”, an installation by Jun Yee

Photos: Taking pictures is not allowed. The photos used in this post are courtesy of MET Museum. 


Date 8 Feb 2013 – ongoing (permanent exhibition)

Museum hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 5:30pm

Address Metropolitan Museum of Manila
Upper Level Galleries
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex
Roxas Boulevard, Manila
The PhilippinesHow to get there:

Via LRT:
You may get off either at Quirino or Vito Cruz Stations, stations that are within the Museum vicinity.Via Bus or Jeepney:
At Taft Avenue, get off at Pablo Ocampo Street then take the CCP Orange Shuttle. Get off at the corner of Pablo Ocampo Street and Roxas Boulevard, and walk to the right along the service road until you reach the Museum.

Entrance Fee:

Php 100.00
Children above three years old, students, adults & foreign guest.
Private school all levels.

Php 80.00
Senior citizen and persons with disabilities.


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