Thursday, April 15, 2010


[First published in The Philippine Star, March 1, 2010]

Santi's spectacle of influence

I found it quite spectacular, and I’m sorry I can only write about it now. But one of the strongest art shows I’ve seen recently just has to be “Remix: Santiago Bose” at the Yuchengco Museum.

While going through the virtual maze of splendid visual offerings themed to an eclectic mix yet partaking of one central influence, I kept muttering to myself that no way would any verdict coming from me be taken at its word.

Santi Bose had been a close buddy, after all. His dear wife Peggy still bakes unparalleled cakes and cookies for me and my family, while his daughters, son, girlfriends, and all former co-conspirators and common friends still take of my time, attention and care as tight kindred, even beyond spirit/s.

And there they all were now, at the Feb. 11 opening of a tribute to Santi’s phenomenal influence — with everyone apparently having pasted on a goofy smile that went well with the Xeroxed Bose facemasks some participating performers had donned.

In one hall were Santi’s Anting-anting illustrations, below which were tacked poetry and prose written by an all-too-willing coterie of poets, writers, historians and cultural purveyors from New York and San Francisco to Pasig and Cubao.

Luis Francia, Jessica Hagedorn, Bino Realuyo and Eileen Tabios of the USA had penned and sent over their literary takes on a particular, selected image among the 60 that made up Bose’s “Confessions of a Talisman.” These literary reactions to Santi’s amulets collection were joined by those of John Silva, Victor Peñaranda, Howie Severino, Ed Geronia and Lilledeshan Bose, among others.

As Santi’s daughter Lille had envisioned, each writer drew literary inspiration from her dad’s anting-anting drawings to “bridge visual and literary art forms, while breaking cultural barriers.”

The next halls showcased a splendid array of distinctive art works by eight relatively young artists who also “took off” from Bose’s talisman collection.

And I tell you, the sets of canvases, multi-media works, and sculpture that each artist created were superlative delights to behold — from Kawayan de Guia’s ethnic/electric chair to Alwin Reamillo’s piano-part dragonflies as bas relief, John Frank Sabado’s geometric excellence to Mark Justiniani’s striking sovereignties, Arnel Agawin’s elegant output to Jordan Mangosan’s solar art, and Bose mentees Leonard Aguinaldo’s and Ged Alangui’s equally creative alarums that wailed in the wake of a shaman’s aesthetic skullduggery.

In the main hall, where Bose’s auto-portraits dwelled on a narrative utterly his own as well as ours, the eight young immortals also collaborated on Santi’s version of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” — endowing the 12-by-12-foot canvas that the artist was working on when he died in 2002 with a picaresque, personalized life of its own.

There too was a prized set of photo collages by Wig Tysman, inclusive of secret narratives that had not a few of the guests at the opening — National Artist BenCab, filmmaker Butch Perez and grand chef Louie Llamado among them — going giddy with recognition.

Australian artist and writer Pat Hoffie and her daughter Visaya Bose also sent in superlative contributions. It was Pat who had best encapsulated the scope of territorial imperative Santiago Bose had mapped out in the international art scene as early as the 1980s.

In a 2003 critique titled “Santiago Bose: Magic, Humor and Cultural Resistance,” Hoffie wrote:

“The extent to which Santiago Bose’s art has influenced the development of contemporary art in the Philippines has yet to be fully fathomed. His introduction of indigenous materials, his mining of Filipino iconography, his re-writing of Filipino history, his commitment to indigenous forms and practices, his bringing together of new media — such as performance, video and installation — with older forms such as rituals, festival paraphernalia and altarpieces — have made a rich and deep contribution to contemporary art practice not only in the Philippines but also abroad. ... Santi’s work wove past histories into the present, and then on into probable and improbable futures. In the face of what often looked like insurmountable odds, he always continued to make art that breathed with the potential for new imaginings.”

Indeed, we all breathed a universally tribal sigh of a wow as we took in the exhibit’s collective interpretation of a singular legacy. Bose’s apprentice Perry Mamaril pitched in, too, as did percussionists and dancers, so that the music that soon enveloped the venue became another medium of transport into Santi’s world: a heritage of endless beginnings.

Days later, his buddy Boy Yuchengco applied yet another piece to add to the 3-D puzzle (read: cosmic conundrum) that Santi’s effect on everyone had, very much like his maniacal guffaw. As if redux and reload were not enough (and with Santi nothing was ever enough), an incendiary altar now enhances the Grand Guignol remix.

Poet-rocker-daughter Lille says it best:

“Art critics lamented that when Santiago Bose died, his influence on the development of contemporary art was impossible to recognize completely. Seven years later, artists have co-opted (and) reinterpreted... Bose’s ideas, forms, and ideology in various mediums.”

You should all catch this exhibit born out of the vestiges of a legacy that has stayed luminous, like lovely lunacy.