Drawing by Jose Legaspi, an exhibit that opened on May 8, 2012, adds another collection of contemporary Filipino art to the UP Vargas Museum – a building that already hosts a massive variety of works reflecting art deco, nouveau, surrealism and about twenty other sophisticated sounding words. I was fortunate enough to be there for the unveiling, which, politically speaking, was quite… something.
Having only been to the University of the Philippines DIliman a couple of times, I had a very difficult time finding my way around. It took me thirty minutes to realize that the UP Vargas Museum was the building with a gigantic “VARGAS” sign in front of it. I headed into the parking lot at the back expecting news vans and a gas-spewing cluster of cars, instead, it was almost empty. Seeing it was only 3:45pm, I made my way to the nearby Museum Café, bringing a notebook with me, and ordered a forty peso iced tea. Totally not worth it.
The exhibit, which was on the third floor of the museum, was in a room separated from the nearby photo-exhibit by a wall save for the two doors – one of which was converted into a window. The room seemed very small from the outside, but once I stepped in, it felt much, much bigger. It was rectangular in shape with the shorter sides of the room being decorated by two large portraits. On the longer sides were a collection of hundreds of small charcoal drawings.
I first made my way to the large drawing which upon entering would be on the right, Drawing 1. It first seemed to me as a large black and white photograph of a middle-aged man in a black shirt and jeans. However, upon looking closely at the details, I quickly realized it was actually a life-sized self-portrait hand-drawn from charcoal and pastel. It was nothing short of amazing. The deep black of the shadows and clothes contrasting with the white-ish color of the skin made the image seem to stand in front of me, as if it was in 3D.
I was in absolute awe, spending probably twenty minutes going over every crease, wrinkle, shadow and fold which made the drawing as life-like as I can image a drawing to be. This I wrote down on my notebook. Amazed by the first piece of the exhibit, I turned around to see another drawing just like it on the other side of the room. It was of a man slouching down on a wooden chair entitled Drawing 2. His face had almost the same mysterious expression as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – an expression which I deemed was a mix of depression and apathy. This was mostly because a woman beside me said so, and she probably knows more about art than I do.
Turning around, I made my way to the next piece of the exhibit, a compilation of hundreds of charcoal drawings each on its own sheet of paper, which, from afar, was once again an amazing sight to behold. But as I looked closer at the individual images, I could only write one thing on my notebook.
“What the f***?”
I stood there staring at what was in front of me: hundreds of pastel and charcoal drawings depicting grotesque, graphic and slightly frightening scenes drawn as if by a five year old child. There were women smiling with their eyes gouged out, mothers gnawing on newborn babies, severed heads performing fellatio and grinning demonic faces.
I needed context, badly. I couldn’t comprehend who would consider such terrifying images as art, so I looked at the other people in the room to see what they made of this. There were only around fifteen people in the room, which was far less than what I expected. To add to that, there was only one person taking photographs who, judging by the ID he had strapped around his neck, was an official photographer. It then quickly became clear to me that I was the only one actually looking at the charcoal drawings as everyone was gathered around the two life-sized portraits, occasionally looking over at the other pieces.
It also seemed to me that the official photographer noticed this as he spend some time taking photographs of the exhibit, and of me looking at the exhibit. I hope, though, that his photos won’t come up in any publications my mother reads, as I don’t think it would sit well with her seeing her son stare at a drawing of a woman playing with her intestines.
As I made my way down the collection of drawings, eventually going over to the other collection behind me, I became more and more uneasy with the increasing gravity of the depicted scenes – which included a severed head with blood gushing from its eye, a woman in a coffin buried underground, nude men and women curled into fetal positions and even a naked man hanging upside down on a crucifix with his penis arcing down onto his stomach.
The other people in the room, who were dressed pretty much as I did (striped polo shirt and blue jeans), seemed to have a slightly less shocked expression as I did. Although it comforts me to think that they did and they are just holding it in. Nonetheless, I left that room in complete shock. And maybe that is the real purpose of the exhibit, to examine and show me up front in the most obscene way possible what makes me uncomfortable and what I find scary.
So left that museum in fear that I may never be truly able to appreciate what I just saw. Still shacking, I made my way to the nearby UP Shopping Center where I ordered five sticks of isaw for twenty pesos. This I know I can appreciate. Totally worth it.
– SUAREZ, James Michael G. (113741)