By LUCHIE B. MARANAN
(At a recent Art Criticism Workshop sponsored by the Baguio Writers Group and the Bencab Art Foundation, fellows were tasked by art critics and lecturers Lito Zulueta and Yason Banal to pick out any artwork to review at the Contemporary Art Gallery of the Bencab Museum. The latter is home to a treasure trove of paintings by the Masters and other contemporary artists. It showcases other art pieces and artifacts that renowned artist Bencab has collected through the years.)
From among the numerous works on the walls, this fellow was drawn to two works by two known social realists that present an interesting study of contrast: Antipas Delotavo’s “Katas ng Manggagawa” and Emmanuel Garibay’s “Nakidueto kay San Miguel”. Both are impressive illustrations and interpretations of the working man’s alienation from his own milieu and portray the plight from economic destitution so prevalent in a society wrought with unresolved social and economic conflicts. With similar perceptions, Delotavo and Garibay take divergent approaches in their rendition.
Portrait of the proletariat in action
Delotavo’s huge oil on canvas mirrors two realities so connected yet so separate at the same time. The well-conceived composition is a glaring statement of the artist’s portrait of the proletariat in action.
The distinct and defined lines he created of a window’s steel casings are a frame that divide and mark these realities. Outside the window are images of laborers who are either walking about in various directions, or toiling under the sun, clearly depicting the brawn necessary for production.
One or two workers are looking through the window, and we are at that instant, included in this social landscape, involved in the great divide as we are directed to the realization about the stark difference between the deprivation outside and the gleaming symbols of opulence within the room, so pompously displayed in detailed metallic colors. To underscore the obvious, oranges stand out amid the metallic kitchenware, a fruit being pressed on the juicer, not unlike the worker being squeezed of his labor power.
The proof of the “katas” of exploitation is not lost on the viewer. The almost meticulous attention of Delotavo to these amenities and tools of convenience are a juxtaposition to the state of the unpropertied workers who are actually and directly involved in economic production. The choice of colors are an interplay of the shabbiness and drab demeanor but unspoken resentment of the laborers. These are Delotavo’s reminders that the working class will remain excluded from or uninvited to the world where the fruits of their labor are enjoyed, shielded by glass pane and iron casings that they can only look into.
No militancy characteristic of other social realist works here but a telling and vivid capture of class contradiction in Philippine society.
Garibay’s oil on canvas though smaller in dimension than Delotavo’s, is a subtle but poignant rendition of the common folk’s psyche. Known for his camaraderie with the peasants and workers he mingled with since his childhood until his activist days, Garibay captures another slice of the common folk’s paean to his survival.
“Nakidueto kay San Miguel” is a familiar portrait of a working man’s penchant for a relaxing drink and music after a hard day’s toil. The viewer’s attention is drawn to a man’s sinewy, rough hands that either plowed the field all day or ran the machine, or simply eked out a day’s living. One hand seeks comfort in a bottle of beer which the other hand beats with a fork to liven up the guitar played by a fellow reveler.
With an almost grotesque style but with a radiant stroke of his brush, Garibay lends that intense expression on the face of the man who sings with his eyes closed, his travails temporarily forgotten and drowned by the blissful accompaniment of the guitar strings and the heady magic of San Miguel beer. In an almost zoom out effect the squalor that surrounds him recedes like the dark night and for one soulful, easy moment, he is a free man, almost floating out of the canvas, unmindful of the yoke that the day after awaits him.
No escapist stroke here. Just an honest capture of one happy man because it’s been a hard day’s night and he had been working like a dog…One can almost sing that tune, staring at Garibay’s tribute to the pesante, or pahinante.
Both Delotavo and Garibay are undoubtedly in the forefront of the Social Realist school in the Philippine art scene today. Many local artists can take the cue from these two visual exponents who are inspired by the realities of the toiling class, the “masa”, the common folk. Delotavo and Garibay are so effectively progressive and socially relevant with their subtle strokes and dynamic hues that sharply dissect social issues and celebrate simple lives of the working class hero.# nordis.net