Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Rodel Ta­paya, Adda Manok Mo, Pe­dro? ( Do You Have a Rooster, Pe­dro? (2015-16). Col­lec­tion Art Gallery of NSW. Gift of Ge­off Ainsworth AM and Jo­hanna Feather­stone, 2016. On dis­play in Pas­sion and Pro­ces­sion: Art of The Philip­pines, Art Gallery of NSW, Syd­ney, un­til Novem­ber 12. Rodel Ta­paya, one of The Philip­pines’ most suc­cess­ful con­tem­po­rary artists, grew up in a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Madre moun­tains, the son of par­ents whose liveli­hood was sell­ing smoked fish at the lo­cal mar­kets.

As a child, Ta­paya helped in the fam­ily busi­ness by buy­ing the news­pa­pers to wrap the fish, and it was through these news­pa­pers that he first be­came in­ter­ested in art. He was fas­ci­nated by the re­pro­duc­tions of paint­ings in the life­style sec­tions and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally col­lected these pic­tures as ref­er­ence ma­te­rial.

He also grew up sur­rounded by a com­plex mix­ture of Filipino iconog­ra­phy. From fam­ily and friends, he heard about pre-His­panic myth­i­cal folk­tales, such as Kan-Laon, the cre- ator and king of time. But he also at­tended church, where he was en­thralled with the re­li­gious sym­bol­ism of Catholi­cism.

From those early as­so­ci­a­tions and after for­mal art train­ing, he de­vel­oped his idio­syn­cratic style of nar­ra­tive paint­ing whereby he wove to­gether dis­parate forms of sym­bol­ism to com­ment on so­ciopo­lit­i­cal is­sues in his coun­try.

His work Adda Manok Mo, Pe­dro? (Do You Have a Rooster, Pe­dro?) is on dis­play at Syd­ney’s Art Gallery of NSW in Pas­sion and Pro­ces­sion. The ex­hi­bi­tion is part of the Bayani­han Philip­pine Art Project, which in­cludes events across mul­ti­ple venues to cel­e­brate the art of The Philip­pines, which has of­ten been un­der-rep­re­sented in many Aus­tralian in­sti­tu­tions.

One of the distinc­tive fea­tures of Philip­pine art is its range of in­flu­ences. There is a long his­tory of colo­nial art from Span­ish in­volve­ment, and then North Amer­i­can colo­nial­ism. Mixed into all this is the im­pact of Catholi­cism. The Je­suits went into The Philip­pines in the 16th cen­tury but the Chris­tian art of that pe­riod was mod­i­fied by tra­di­tional be­liefs such as an­i­mal­ism, al­most like voodoo.

Many of these in­flu­ences are ev­i­dent in Adda Manok Mo, Pe­dro?, and when I visit the AGNSW I am shown the paint­ing by Matt Cox, cu­ra­tor of Asian art, who says it was first shown at the 20th Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney lat year. It is now the gallery’s first ac­qui­si­tion of con­tem­po­rary Philip­pine art.

“I think ev­ery­one when they first see it is over­whelmed by the scale and the in­ten­sity of it,” says Cox. “You are im­me­di­ately struck by all these dif­fer­ent things go­ing on and how they re­late to each other, so it is a chal­lenge as you wan­der around the paint­ing. Rodel is quite happy for you to rest your eye on one mo­ment and ab­sorb that.”

Vy­ing for at­ten­tion in the com­po­si­tion are sol­diers with the heads of roost­ers, pink mum­mi­fied bod­ies, spi­der-like fig­ures, de­cap­i­tated stat­ues, a blue horse and de­cay­ing Mar­cos fam­ily man­sions, and that’s just for starters. There are ref­er­ences to a child’s game, po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vring and the vi­o­lence of war. More specif­i­cally, it refers to a fa­tal clash be­tween elite po­lice of­fi­cers and Is­lamic fight­ers on Jan­uary 25, 2015, in the south­ern Philip­pines.

The paint­ing has been de­scribed as sur­re­al­is­tic, says Cox, but it doesn’t re­fer to the sub­con­scious or a dream world. Rather, these are al­le­gories de­pict­ing real events and real fig­ures that Filipino people un­der­stand.

Cox says Ta­paya has had an ac­cel­er­ated rise to in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. “It tells us what an ac­com­plished painter he is, that he can paint some­thing on this scale and it still ap­pears as a very com­pre­hen­sive and com­pelling im­age. He is go­ing to be one of the big play­ers, I think, in South­east Asian art.”

Ta­paya’s work also is fea­tured in the ex­hi­bi­tion Rodel Ta­paya: New Art from The Philip­pines at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia, Can­berra, un­til Au­gust 20.

Acrylic on can­vas; 300cm x 100cm x 5cm

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