How do you look at an art work? How do you judge which is good and which is not? I’m not a professional art critic; I just happened to take my Humanities class under the legendary Ricaredo Demetillo, and I learned a lot from him. I approach art from an extremely emotional perspective. If an art piece does not “talk to me”, I don’t like it. If it elicits a strong feeling (provocative, inspiring, calming, whimsical, introspective, enraging…), I take long hard look at it—from afar, up close, from the left and from the right—to try to understand what it is trying to convey. At Pinto Art Museum, I discovered the works of Boni de Guzman and two pieces talked a lot to me.
“Estudyante at mg Eruplanong Papel” by Boni de Guzman
One of the exhibits at Pinto Art Museum was by Biskeg, a group of artists from Pangasinan.
When I entered the room, I walked straight to a four-piece sculpture encased in glass. It was the colors and boldness that first caught my eye. Even before I saw the name of the piece, I was sure that it was about dreams and reaching for higher heights—the planes for dreams and the ladders on which the figures stand on are the steps toward those dreams.
Nothing too mysterious nor profound, it seemed at first. Then, I noticed what are in the hands of the four figures. Three have bags and one is holding flowers in both hands.
For some reason, the flowers made me think of sampaguita (Philippine jasmine). The flowers are too large to be sampaguita? Think exaggeration. Almost everything about the figures are exaggerated—large eyes, noses and mouths, chinless square faces and long necks. Why shouldn’t the sampaguita be larger and longer than normal too?
Sampaguita flowers are often threaded to make garlands. These garlands are sold in front of and around churches where people buy them to offer to the statues of saints. Sampaguita garlands are also sold by children on city streets. Many of these children will plead with you to buy a few garlands so they would have money to buy food or to enable them to go to school.
Convinced that the figure in white is indeed holding sampaguita in her hands, I peered closer—first, at her and then at the three other figures. The first thing I noticed was that the figure with sampaguita was more emaciated than the others. And she is the only one not carrying a bag. Perhaps, she represented poverty. A poor student who has to earn in order to support her education.
What about the three other figures? Apart from being able to afford bags to carry their things to school, surely, something sets them apart from one another? I inspected them one by one.
The colors of the bags are different and one is carrying a book. I wondered if the colors of the bags signified anything. Red for the activist, blue for the pacifist and purple for the rich. If that were the case, then, it also explains why the dress of the girl with the purple bag looks fancier than the others’ clothes; she can afford to own a book too.
A whimsical piece of art that is, at the same time, a call for introspection.
“Estudyante at mga Eruplanong Papel” is made with polymer clay, acrylic paint, resin, aluminum, copper wire, narra wood and acrylic glass.
“Bahaghari” by Boni de Guzman
In my haste to study and photograph “Estudyante at mga Eruplanong Papel”, I passed this piece by the door without really noticing it. We were on our way out when I saw it. Perhaps, Speedy or Alex pointed it out to me.
There are pieces of art that you need to see from a distance to appreciate. First, you get the big picture. Then, you zoom in on the details. “Bahaghari”, also by Boni de Guzman, is one such piece of art. When you’re too near it (as I was when I first entered the room), it didn’t make an impression. But, farther away from across the room, I was staggered by its immensity—not only in physical size but in its attempt to bend common beliefs.
A human standing on a ladder with his body above a rainbow and, above him, shanties floating at a height that only airplanes ordinarily reach. At the foot of the ladder, shanties darker in color than the floating ones, are scattered in disarray.
In fairy tales, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A man and a community that can see from above the rainbow can see where it ends. Again, I found Boni de Guzman creating a scene about dreams. Unlike “Estudyante at mga Eruplanong Papel”, in “Bahaghari”, a man and his community have reached their dreams.
That was my first interpretation. But when I peered closer at the human figure, I started to change my mind about what the whole thing means. Could the meaning be darker rather than dreamy?
I didn’t notice it when I was looking at “Bahaghari” at Pinto; I noticed it when I was cropping the photos preparatory to uploading them here in the blog. With his left hand, the man is clutching a string that appears to be holding the floating houses together. From the angle of his hand, it looks like is pulling down the houses or preventing them from floating farther up.
And, on his right hand… I must admit that it’s hard to discern based on a zoomed-in photo from my iPhone, but… it looks to me like a decaying child with the kidneys prominently exposed. I thought of the organ trade, illegal in the Philippines since 2008, that has created a black market. I thought about desperate people selling a kidney for a few thousands to feed their families. Could “Bahaghari” be about death as an escape rather than the victory of reaching one’s dreams? Alex vehemently disagrees that it has a dark meaning. I want to disagree with myself too as I much prefer my first interpretation.
Whether the meaning is inspiring or dark, there is no doubt that, in terms of execution, “Bahaghari” is a marvel. If you get the chance to see it, look at it first from afar then walk towards it and get as near to it as you possibly can. Inspect its parts and discover that the parts are just as magnificent as the whole.
I started writing this blog post with the working title “My 5 Favorites from the Exhibits at the Pinto Art Museum”. After writing over a thousand words, I realized that I had still only written about two of Boni de Guzman’s work. I decided that I’m going to write about the three other pieces that I liked at Pinto Art Museum in a separate post. I’m also changing the title of the blog post to “At Pinto Art Museum, I Discovered the Works of Boni de Guzman”.