There are pieces of art that celebrate the beauty of the human body. There's David and Venus de Milo representing sculpture, for instance; or the Creation of Adam, representing paintings.
And then there are those art pieces that show us the body as it is, with all its flabs and its excretions. It is far from perfect but is nevertheless a sight to behold. That's what Danilo Dalena was showing in an exhibition of his works at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. I popped in on its last day of showing; which is why there was a lot of visitors and there was a party going on right outside the gallery.
Some of the works gave me a glimpse into what the Manila Jai Alai building looked like inside back in the day. It's an architectural gem in Manila, hailing from the Art Deco period. However, Manila is evolving and is more than willing to let go of the past (along with its architectural richness) in favour of a modern but less culturally and artfully impressive future (think glass buildings and that eyesore of a photo bomber visible behind the Rizal Monument in Luneta). Hence, the Jai Alai building has ceased to exist years ago, to the lament of artists, historians, and culture buffs.
Some of the artwork looked into what happened once the lights dimmed in Manila's movie houses. Nothing much, apparently; just a lot of older men (but still in the working class) paying the ticket price for an opportunity to stay in the dark and... sleep. I imagine that these were the same men who were betting quite heavily at the jai alai match in the nearby building or at the horse races happening at the Sta Ana Hippodrome. These men were exhausted, naturally, and found refuge in the relative peace and solitude of the cinema.
Some of the paintings took a peek inside the master's bedroom, presenting in a tableau what spouses were doing before they fell asleep... which included the mundane tasks of reading and doing crossword puzzles, trying to lull themselves to sleep.
But what is a provocative artist without dabbling into controversial topics like religion, body image, and sex, right?
Last Full Show featured two paintings which featured two sides of the religious coin: the first painting featured the Filipinised Jesus Christ (dark-skinned), dressed as a priest, being revered by a long queue of people; the second painting, depicting the same scene from a different angle, showing that the people in the queue were actually waiting for their turn to pee because the priest was relieving himself. And then there's the powerful painting about the parade of the Black Nazarene during his feast day. Dalena was able to capture the chaos of millions of people who willingly get crushed just to touch the miraculous image. A critique on people's inconsistent religiosity was displayed in a painting about a cabinet in which the saints were trapped.
Over the course of the exhibit, Dalena was quite unforgiving, sometimes bordering on the absurd, in portraying the common man and woman as obese (and oftentimes) elderly people walking around naked or partially clothed, with their bodily excess in full view of the audience. It contrasts with the impressions of poverty that are attached with the grimy scenes his characters seem to thrive in... poor people are often portrayed as people who don't have enough to eat and are too skinny for their own good. Yet Dalena chose to paint many of these characters as obese.
And then, there are pieces of art work that dabbled into sexual themes. He had a series of art focused on what happened in beer-houses, in which seedy men drank their alcohol while watching scantily clad women gyrate to sultry music. Again, perhaps he was portraying this form of entertainment as an escape from the realities of poverty and of troubled family life for the traditional household head, men. Maybe it's no different from the men who slept inside the cinema after (I presume) betting on jai alai matches.
What was the artist's or the curator's objective in selecting these pieces? I'm not sure what the story is, aside from showcasing what is typically hidden in the dark corners of portraits and tableaus.
The exhibit was definitely though-provoking. However, its themes were too dark and dated for my taste.