Gas­ton Da­mag sticks to his Ifu­gao roots

A Paris-based Filipino artist puts the spot­light on the dis­placed and the dis­en­fran­chised


Gas­ton Da­mag re­mains un­re­lent­ing when it comes to bring­ing the story of his Ifu­gao roots to the world stage, even after work­ing as a mu­seum as­sis­tant for 12 years and while rais­ing his fam­ily.

His artis­tic jour­ney has been long, and the vista from the Philip­pines to Paris had him think­ing more about the first Filipino artists who had dared present Filipino cul­ture to the world. “It’s a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence when you’re an artist or a writer and live far from your coun­try. I think that was ex­actly what our he­roes ex­pe­ri­enced when they left the Philip­pines and tried to crit­i­cize the Span­ish gov­ern­ment [from abroad] dur­ing that time.”

Gas­ton cred­its Europe for the global per­spec­tive that al­lows him to see the mi­nor­ity cul­ture he be­longs to within a big­ger story. “I don’t know if [there’s] a bet­ter an­gle for see­ing our coun­try, but it’s how I see things. I try to see my Ifu­gao cul­ture through [the lens of a] Euro­pean or Amer­i­can mu­seum, and work on the ques­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion.” The re­sults of his re­flec­tion have been seen in ex­hibits in Foire In­ter­na­tionale d’Art Con­tem­po­rain in France, Art Basel Switzer­land, and Art Basel Hong Kong.

But ev­ery jour­ney that Gas­ton takes al­ways leads him back home. Cur­rently, he’s part of the the­matic ex­hibit “The In­verted Tele­scope” at The Draw­ing Room, where he worked on the idea of land own­er­ship and the rea­sons why peo­ple seek greener pas­tures. He looked at how tak­ing an in­dige­nous com­mu­nity’s land away from them is never just a ma­te­rial loss: “They lose soul, they lose hope. It’s all re­lated to poverty. They have noth­ing to do in the farm, they have noth­ing to work on. They all come to Manila try­ing to find a bet­ter life.”

As a Filipino artist on the world stage, where do you draw the line when it comes to cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion?

I do not have the [au­thor­ity] to re­spond to that, but I in­vite spec­ta­tors to look care­fully at my works. My best re­sponse [would be found in them], as I’ve been work­ing for more than 25 years on the ethno­graphic mu­seum rep­re­sen­ta­tions of my cul­ture and other mi­nor­ity cul­tures.

What has been the best con­struc­tive crit­i­cism you’ve heard about your work?

It’s funny, the same French art critic wrote a very good ar­ti­cle in the French news­pa­per Le Monde about my art­works at the Art Asia Now Fair in Paris last year was the same per­son who [re­lated] my work [to the] Nazis. This was dur­ing the ’80s, after I had just grad­u­ated from the Beaux-Arts in Paris; my work then was min­i­mally con­cep­tual. I hate when peo­ple only say, “Not bad,” be­cause that meant there was no en­gage­ment. Si­lence would be bet­ter. Maybe [the best praise is] when peo­ple don’t ask ques­tions. When peo­ple come, go, and come back again to see more.

How has liv­ing in Paris in­flu­enced your ap­proach to art?

France is a coun­try that loves to dis­cuss: pol­i­tics, lit­er­a­ture, sports, arts. I’ve learned to ques­tion my­self ev­ery time.

Is there such a thing as cre­ative fa­tigue?

No. Fa­tigue [comes from] the des­per­a­tion I feel when I read bad news; that can af­fect my cre­ativ­ity. It’s un­com­fort­able, but we, the lucky ones, need to ac­cept the re­al­ity and do our best to be as hon­est as pos­si­ble.

In light of ev­ery­thing that’s been hap­pen­ing, do you feel pres­sured to show the good side of hu­man­ity in your work?

Artists are pro­foundly hu­man­ists; ev­ery­thing they see af­fects them. My art­work is [of­ten] about the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of peo­ple who are con­sid­ered passé but still [live among us] to­day. I think what I do is al­ready [a form of po­lit­i­cal] en­gage­ment be­cause I ques­tion how mi­nori­ties are rep­re­sented [in so­ci­ety]. But it’s also im­por­tant to re­al­ize that no story should af­fect my re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple. My work is a metaphor for re­spect­ing the other.

What’s your next project?

Pre­par­ing for a group show at the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines that will open this month. •

Gas­ton Da­mag’s work “Mine me not­mine me not-mine me not-mine mem­ine me not-mine me not..” is on ex­hibit at The Draw­ing Room.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.