GASTON DAMAGRaining in the Mountains, 2014, digital photographs, 56 × 71 cm  each. Courtesy of Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, and The Drawing Room, Manila. 

Fluidity And Encounters: Current Versions Of The Philippine Contemporary

Hong Kong Philippines

Situated in an industrial building in the Wong Chuk Hang district, the Hong Kong outpost of Rossi & Rossi unveiled a refreshing new group show in collaboration with The Drawing Room, Manila. “Fluidity and Encounters: Current Versions of the Philippine Contemporary” brings together a myriad of contemporary art from the tropical archipelago with varied mediums ranging from photography, pen drawing to sculptural installation and more. At a time when there is rising interest in art from this region, the work of 12 artists are brought together to consider the diverse explorations and artistic languages that have sprouted from the nation since the Philippines gained independence in 1946. The exhibition attempts to examine how artists grapple with the country’s postcolonial past and its residual remnants in contemporary society.

Upon entering the gallery space, one is immediately met with Paris-based Gaston Damag’s photographic installation, Raining in the mountains (2014). Spread along two walls consuming a corner space, 30 photographs—placed side by side without gaps—become a combined image of landscapes, mountains and villages. Scenic locations of the historically mountainous and isolated Ifugao province—where the artist has roots—serve as an ideal backdrop for experimentation into the tactile surfaces of his photographs. As a painter, he makes it “rain” on the mountains by painting through digitally added color, in streaks of red and white on the photographs. He questions the idea of what turns a photograph into a painting. The act of erasing and stripping the images also allows Damag to confront the roles of culture and the history of its visual representation in modern society.

JOHN FRANK SABADO, Image of the Past III, 2014, ink on paperm 79 × 60.5 cm.  Courtesy of Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, and The Drawing Room, Manila. 

MANUEL OCAMPO, Las Plagas Remix, 1990–2014, acrylic on canvas, 201 × 173 cm. Courtesy of Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, and The Drawing Room, Manila. 

Similarly, John Frank Sabado, a self-taught artist, also uses his visual language in correlation to his personal history including his childhood years in Mankayan, Benguet. His trademark ballpoint pen drawings on paper—highly complex and exquisitely intricate—incite detailed analysis. Sabado grew up in an area rife with logging. His early years witnessing the destruction of nature around him are reflected in his tapestry-esque drawings. The complex imagery in Images of the Past I, II, III and IV (all 2014) are surreal compositions revealing tribal figures, ancestors of the province dressed in traditional garments and jewelry. They are fused with the environment around them—branches, birds, mountains, grassland, and clouds—against a backdrop of elaborate geometric patterns. Pictured together, the figures emerge from the landscape, as though nature’s guardian, symbolizing a deep ancestral connection to the environment while also calling attention to the issues surrounding the destruction of forests inflicted by modern society.

From the monochromatic to psychedelic, Caloocan-born, Manila-based multidisciplinary artist Dex Fernandez illuminates the space with his fluorescent hand-painted mural. Ten eclectic mixed-media collages are strategically placed on top creating a visually distinguished section that stands apart in the gallery space. 12:44 (2012), one of the ten collages, is characteristic of Fernandez’s signature style. A portrait of a man with his eyes closed is covered atop with a kaleidoscope of boldly colorful patterns, close-ups of selected facial features and pop culture iconography. Informed by street art and popular culture, Fernandez’s color-rich aesthetic and fantasy-inspired imagery appropriates found material to question the boundaries of fine art and high culture.

DEX FERNANDEZ,12:44, 2012, ink, embroidery, sticker and acrylic on digital print 112.5 × 76 cm. Courtesy of Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, and The Drawing Room, Manila.  

Opposite from Fernandez’s psychedelic mural are Manuel Ocampo’s two large-scale acrylic paintings. A prominent figure in both the international and Philippine art scene, Ocampo is known for using art historical references, popular and religious iconography to create captivating depictions that tackle societal issues linked to religion, politics and history. Painted in a simple palette of blue and gray hues, a deeply disturbing image is portrayed in Monument to the Slaughter of Reality by Art (2015), which depicts a devil with horns overpowering a hooded skeleton whose scythe lies beside him, useless, on the floor. By contrast, Las Plagas Remix (1990–2014)—Spanish for “pests”—demands visual attention by its strong pop of color. Full of symbolism associated with racism and issues of oppression, a black-and-white image of a skeleton and a swastika can evidently been seen underneath the layer of yellow paint crudely washed over the top.

Exemplary of the diversity and vibrancy situated within the current Filipino art scene, the artworks seen in the exhibition address subjects situated in a modern cosmopolitan society and its relationship with leftover influences from the colonial era.


“Fluidity and Encounters: Current Versions of the Philippine Contemporary” is on view at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, until March 30, 2015.