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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

entry arrow10:41 AM | Room of Spirits

Honestly, I've been remiss with my Philippine Daily Inquirer duties. So, last weekend, I decided to begin churning out the articles expected of me. Here's for this Monday's Lifestyle Section issue.

Click here if you want the real thing.

The pleasant surprise may be that, hidden somewhere in a Mexican restaurant called CocoAmigos -- located along the northern stretch of Dumaguete City's famous Boulevard -- is an adobe-brown dining room, which is increasingly becoming the most important space for art in this city down south, in Negros Oriental.

Here, a kind of wakening is stirring what had always been a vibrant -- although surprisingly low-key -- community of artists. The city had always boasted of artists of impressive rank, with equally impressive voices: Kitty Taniguchi and her Babylonic female abandon, for example, and daughter Maria Taniguchi's prophetic reach. There's the surreal worlds of Jutze Pamate and Raszceljan Salvarita which border on Pinoy Magritte. There's Paul Pfeiffer, whose installations won for him America's prestigious Whitney Prize sometime in 2001.

In their wake come two more names in Dumaguete art that may command considerable attention in the years to come. In an exhibit aptly called "Waves of Worship," artists Susan Canoy and Sharon Dadang-Rafols have finally come into their own, their artistic voices full-bodied in an exhibit that celebrates spirituality in manifestations of outward worship, or inward angst.

Susan Canoy's work -- composed mostly of acrylic paintings on antique narra wood -- is a marked departure from the diwata and sirena motifs that had always characterized her early paintings, not always done successfully. But in these new works, she has achieved that ambitious reach to people her canvass with folkloric elements, and render them with intensity and meaning.

This time around, she takes on the celebrative nature of Filipino religiosity -- the saints' days and festivals of our collective spiritual identity -- and mounts them in the form of calendar dials, each canvass reminiscent of those typical framed installations of kris swords and ancient shields that used to grace many Filipino homes. Set on black tablets, stylized wood panels -- accented on the sides with decorative metal door handles that seem to suggest a welcome to varieties of rituals -- are rendered with scenes from the Catholic festivals of saints, all done in Amorsolo charm, the acrylic finish marking a vibrant quality.

"This worship of Saints," Canoy says, "is celebrated to ask for more bounty and harvest and a good life." For that, she devotes one work to each month of the year, a dial in the center indicating the various festivities set in that month, then highlighting the one celebration that defines the days.

For January, there is "Inahan sa Kanunayng Panabang," the top showing a scene of a young man playing guitar in the middle of a vast rice field, and the bottom with vintas in the horizon. For October, she celebrates the Oriental Negrense Buglasan tradition in "Pagsaulog," with Dumaguete's Boulevard rendered in festive colors on the top, and the provincial capitol on the bottom in an energy of people dancing to the Buglasan beat. The other works evoke the other months: "Viva Senyor," "Semana Santa," "Flores de Mayo," and so on.

But while Canoy's works celebrate the visible and often theatrical rites to commemorate our everyday spirituality, Sharon Dadang-Rafols' works suggest a more introspective tone of worship, maybe even internal struggles of faith.

Hers is a work of miniature tension. The paintings -- or a set of small ones presented mostly as triptychs -- are outer expressions of inner peace and inner rage, canvasses of white with strokes of color, foreboding, and meditation, set against a backdrop of blackness. They are almost like Rorschach ink blot tests, and sometimes what is hidden in the chaos of color are startling forms that resemble phantom faces (done to the most haunting degree in the "Entreaty" triptych), throbbing veins, and palimpsests of forbidden landscapes.

"My work," Dadang-Rafols says, "is much in line with meditation through colors and wave of colors. Simple lines and integration of colors create subjects of imagination that makes the viewer meditate, or simply gaze. Perhaps the blending of the hues captures the eye to a deeper meaning of the almost photographic wash of colors."

Her "Zen Series" is a simple exercise of Chinese water color ink on paper, in a kind of pulled string effect that reaches beyond that. They provide windows. To what? To inner wildness, and to eventual calm? "Vision" and "Gamut" are portraits, perhaps, of the recesses of our inner anatomies, at once organic and ominous. "My Prayer," on the other hand, is a tornado of red and sunsets of green, obliquely revealing a haunting woman's face. "Our Kibbutz" is a set of five panels that approximate a rough sequence of waves and blots simulating fireworks and lava lamps, to end, like the other painting, to a portrait of sorts of a smudged-up woman. "The Works" is a splatter of red simulating palm trees in a nuclear sunset, a theme which bleeds to "Breathe," which shows a stark landscape of the shadows of barren trees and ruined buildings, all shrouded in purple decadence.

Two women with singular views on viewing the numinous, reflecting our individual responses to the ethereal, the ritualistic, and the meditative.

In that adobe room in that restaurant, the spirits loom, bursting out of the canvasses and finally into our lives.

(The exhibit runs until February 24, in CocoAmigos, Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.)

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich