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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR ME?




What Are You Doing For Me?
by Leovino Ma. Garcia
from The Manila Chronicle (April 18-24, 1992)


“The Christ – painted by the master of angst – is alive.”

He stares at you, this blue-eyed Christ of Ang Kiukok. He is a “Kristo ng Masa” (not a title given by Kiukok) who is asking “What have you done to me?”

The distinctive Ang Kiukok features are there – the anguished (but here, more bewildered) look, the sallow cheeks, the luscious lips, even the bristling crown of thorns. But there is an arresting feature which fascinates you if you are an avid Ang Kiukok watcher. This Christ is alive! His eyes are open, the cross He will be carrying (and will later be nailed to) reflected in His eyes. He is unlike the many Christs (in Esperanza Buñag Gatbonton’s book entitled Kiukok) who have expired, their guts carved out, pricked by thorns that have grown and crept slowly. This “Kristo ng Masa” is unlike the clowns, fishermen, women harvesters, mothers and babies who look up or bow, with their eyes shut, as if the reality around were very much for them to bear.

One can be superficial and immediately conclude that these characters who people Kiukok’s paintings stand for the shy, withdrawn and reticent Kiukok. Yet, if one is fortunate enough to be trusted and drawn into a conversation with him, one soon realizes that the stereotyped image of a Kiukok who is shy and inarticulate is farthest from the truth. In conversation, he is a very articulate and intelligent person whose remarks can become incisive and fiery (like his dog paintings), when decrying the hypocrisy and mediocrity of our own selves and our times.

Matinik talaga si Kiukok! And one can playfully add that it may be for this reason that many thorns –tinik – figure in his paintings, from the crown of thorns, the thorns of fish bones, the thorns of potted flowering plants displayed before open windows.

To go back to this “Kristo ng Masa.” How did it come to be? Coming back from a trip to Europe last November 1991, I had rushed to Kiukok’s house to give him a postcard of a painting by Gustave Van de Woestijn, a Belgian expressionist painter, showing a crucified Christ with blood-shot eyes wide open. I remarked to Kiukok that aside from the dead Christ, there is also a Christ who is alive and who has overcome death. A resurrected Christ – a Christ of hope. The conversation went on to a discussion of the last scene in Lino Brocka’s “Kapit sa Patalim” where Gina Alajar glares at the audience for a long time, silently asking “What have you done to him?” (her dead husband cradled in her arms, Pieta-style). The discussion led to the ethical philosophy of the French-Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, with ethics defined as the revolution within one’s self when one begins to think of the Other, to be thought-ful of the Other. To be ethical is to pose to one’s self the question “What have I done for you?”

Barely a week after, during my next visit, Kiukok beckoned me to his studio and with a smile, pointed to the newly-painted “Kristo” on the easel.



It would be presumptuous to claim that Van de Woestijn’s “Christ” was the direct cause of Kiukok’s “Kristo.” Upon verification from Kiukok, I found out that he had also drawn in pen and ink, many years before, other Christs with open eyes. He has simply returned to an old theme.

Does it mean that the angst and despair in previous paintings (especially during the Martial Law period) have given way to optimism and hope? Not at all, if one were to go by what Kiukok says. In fact, there is even less hope now. According to him, there are too few good persons around. What is even worse is that religion, which should draw out human beings to a power and transcendence beyond themselves, has often been turned into a business for self-profit. Perhaps, this explains why Ang Kiukok, who confesses belief in God, cannot bring himself to practice a religious cult.

Despite this, Ang Kiukok is clearly religious and ethical in his paintings, which make visible the prevailing relationships which need to be eradicated – aggression, arrogance, and greed as seen in the paintings of fighting cocks and fighting dogs, unconcern for the environment in the “Junkscape” paintings, apathy and lack of hope in the “Crucifixion” paintings. By painting these, he points out what kind of relationships one must aspire for – tenderness and harmony. Ang Kiukok is most poignant and tender in the mother and child, clown, and lovers paintings.

In Ang Kiukok’s “Kristo ng Masa,” one confronts the embarrassing questions that are posed every time we encounter the Face, especially the Face of the poor and the oppressed – the Face of beggars, vagrants, orphans, widows, and victims: “What have you done for me? What are you doing for me? What will you do for me?” Only in the answers we give will we know whether we believe that Jesus Christ is risen and whether we live the truth that Christ is truly alive today, now and forever.

__________

Sining Kamalig…an art gallery presents the collection of Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia, exhibition curator, in a rare exhibition of paintings featuring the face. The show curiously entitled EXPERIENCE THE FACE takes on the philosophical meaning behind the act of looking at someone else’s face. The saying “ I see myself in you” takes on a new meaning. Works of the following artists will be included: Ang Kiukok, Mark Andy Garcia, Emmanuel Garibay, Lao Lianben, Jonathan Olazo, Onib Olmedo, Levin Paras, Lynyrd Paras, Neil Pasilan, Ryan Rubio, Gino Tioseco, and Oca Villamiel, as well as Grandier Bella, Jose Ibay, and John Marin. The show opens on Monday 6 December and runs till 29 December 2010. Artis Corpus Gallery manages the show which will be mounted at the Main Gallery of Sining Kamalig…an art gallery located at Level 4 of Gateway Mall, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City. Please email enricojlmanlapaz@yahoo.com.ph or sms 09209537426 for details.

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