One of Art Fair 2017’s most in­ter­est­ing new faces talks fe­ces and men­strual mat­ters.

Esquire (Philippines) - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By KARA OR­TIGA Pho­to­graphs by JOSEPH PASCUAL

A FRAN­TIC MOTHER called her young daugh­ter to leave the booth. The lit­tle girl, around six or seven years old, re­fused to exit the gallery—per­haps half-cu­ri­ous or half-amused that her mother was so pan­icked about get­ting her out. The mother was pan­icked for a rea­son: The lit­tle girl had her eyes glued to the screen of a lap­top on dis­play as part of a spe­cial ex­hibit at the Art Fair Philip­pines; and the reel, play­ing on loop, was a video shot from the point of view of a girl mas­tur­bat­ing. The clip was over­laid on another video clip of a blonde hot­tie.

The booth was that of 28-year-old artist Maria Jeona Zoleta, one of the artists cho­sen to put up a spe­cial ex­hibit for the es­teemed event. Her un­apolo­get­i­cally provoca­tive work was meant to in­sti­gate clamor and shock and con­fu­sion, es­pe­cially with ur­ban­ite moth­ers lug­ging around their clue­less daugh­ters to art shows.

On In­sta­gram, Jeona goes by the moniker @ex­plodin­gassholes; her posts are eerily cryptic and force­fully so. She will take a video of a clump of blood gush­ing down her arm—her men­stru­a­tion—a re­cur­ring medium in her work. As a teenager, she says, she used to stick her soiled nap­kins on the walls of the house, and be­cause they had stayed up for so long, flies had be­gan to swarm around them, and worms be­gan to take life.

The na­ture of her work is irk­some and de­ranged, and right­fully so be­cause the artist be­hind the can­vas is an ec­cen­tric in the truest sense of the word. A self-as­cribed “baliw,” a ti­tle she would use of­ten to de­scribe her­self and the peo­ple around her: her dad, a con­ser­va­tive en­gi­neer; her tita who raised her like her own daugh­ter; the town crazy she met in Baler who be­came her friend. “Baliw ‘yun eh,” she would say mat­ter-of-factly, and even though your per­spec­tive is shrewd with doubt, you kind of be­lieve ev­ery­thing that comes out of her mouth.

Her home feels like some­thing out of a Harry Pot­ter book: wind­ing stair­ways, con­struc­tion half-done, there are holes for doors with­out the doors, or holes in doors. Her bed­room is a bodega of relics she has col­lected since child­hood: tear sheets from fash­ion mag­a­zines and Po­laroid snap­shots of her friends half-naked. There are laser ray lights and ten pairs of slip­pers and an as­sort­ment of fab­ric of all kind, and dil­dos... When you go for a piss in her bath­room, she’ll say, “I’m sorry there’s a hole in the door, it’s from the time I threw a bot­tle of beer [at] my ex,” and you have to po­litely re­spond to th­ese kinds of jar­ring ex­changes with her. “Ah,” you muster in panic.

But Jeona is an artist in a sense that maybe we’ve for­got­ten artists can af­ford to be, and her very pres­ence in the art scene must be ac­knowl­edged. There’s the art of the hy­per­re­al­ists, there’s art that’ll sell for mil­lions, there’s art on the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal, and there’s art that looks good with your couch. The cre­ation of art—it’s the only pro­fes­sion af­ter all that al­lows this kind of at­ti­tude, pro­motes it, even. And per­haps, amidst all this, it’s nice to squeeze in art like Jeona’s—de­ranged and whim­si­cal and self-serv­ing for the heck of it. Whether peo­ple will un­der­stand it or not, at least, there’s fi­nally room for it in the art mar­ket.


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