Faces of Allegory

By Alice G. Guillermo

Though Emmanuel Garibay was born in Kidapawan, his family moved to Davao where he enjoyed an untrammeled childhood.  His father was a strong and lasting influence in his life, being a Methodist pastor from whom the artist imbibed his earliest concepts of religion and morality.  His mother, who worked in the city engineer’s office, encouraged him to be an artist.  Garibay enrolled and completed his first degree, a BA in sociology in the University of the Philippines Los Banos, a course which developed his interest in the dynamics of social interaction.  Soon after, he transferred to UP Diliman where he took his fine arts degree in painting.  After graduation, he won several awards of which were: First Prize Painting Category, Art Association of the Philippines, 1994; Diwa ng Sining Award, NCCA, 1994; Second Prize, Painting Category, Il Biennal del Balloncesto en Bellas Artes, Madrid, 2000, and Thirteen Artists Awards, CCP, 2000. He is also one of the leading lights of the Tutok group of artists which focuses on contemporary issues.

That Emmanuel Garibay is master of the portrait is confirmed by his next shows at the Ayala Museum and the Alliance Francaise which will exhibit his newest series of faces.  Most traditional portraits place premier importance on physical likeness or verisimilitude as they are often commissioned by a client who will obligingly pose in his/her Sunday finery for several sessions, such as was the case of  Fernando Amorsolo.  At other times, there may not be an immediate model, but instead the artist paints from a template in his mind which he executes in a work, drawing of painting, the value of which lay in its typicality.  The many paintings of peasants and vendors come from the 19th century tipos del pais such as those from the atelier of Felix Roxas and Simon Flores.  But social portraiture began to appear and later flourish with the rise of the ilustrados with cash crop agriculture and the introduction of the money economy. Interestingly enough, these portraits in general seemed to mute or subdue the personality of the subject in order to give full rein to the magnificent intricacies of the evolved Filipino dress and the accessories that came with the new commerce and trade.

But even with modernism, the quest for verisimilitude in portraiture was not abandoned, and Edades himself did a number of representational portraits of women.  But to this genre, Edades and most modernist artists added the ingredient of personality.  There was a new value given to the individual consisting of many and various distinctions, painted with the greater latitude in color and form that came with modernism.

Manny Garibay, however, takes portraiture from quite another point of view.  For him, the different characters of Philippine society crystallize in his imagination, combining attributes of the typical and the individual, but with a rich complexity combining ingredients of physiognomy, demeanor, attire, setting, and accessories which come together in a seamless whole.  Though they often recall figures on a stage in a darkened theatre, they have an up-close sharpness with just a fascinating touch of oddity and individual eccentricity.  Invariably, too, the natural humor of the artist insinuates itself in the paintings in which relaxation and tension are close opposites.

These new portraits, likewise, carry the history of the country with them, and the very semiotic construction of their figures narrate the vicissitudes of our people.  They are invariably contextualized in space and time.  And this is particularly true of the painting Kambal which shows two coeval figures (the twins of the title) against a quiet country landscape with the two main structures of Filipino life: the church and the municipal or government building. The two, one the mayor and the other a bishop, loom over the landscape with a quiet ironic grin, perfectly cognizant of their traditional roles as lords of the land.

Indeed, as a well-known artist belonging to the second-generation social realists, Manny Garibay is the painter of the Counter Portrait which denies self-conscious poses for public edification but instead brings into view the alternative submerged identity/identities obscured by layers of colonial existence.  For him the reassuring portraits under sunny skies, heirs of the Amorsolo tradition, have a subtle, jaundiced tone, while similar objects from everyday life, sacred or profane, assume sinister connotations, as in an earlier series when everyday life seemed haunted by inquisitorial phantoms, Garibay does not so much as strip away illusions as expose the contours of a warped colonial personality to humor and light ridicule.

Con temporary characters abound in this series and, although they may be derived from children’s tales, are nevertheless present in our time.  While a portrait usually serves the purpose of personal vanity and self-edification, the series has at least one anti-portrait in the vainglorious clown.  With a checkered cap atop his head, his nose seems to get longer by the minute but he is only aware of his self importance as both his fingers point directly to his own person, while he ignores the drowning man before him.  Another anti-portrait may be the work entitled Tapat.  Here the subject is an unpleasantly corpulent man with a smug and soulless face, his soul itself stuffed with silencing bribes.  He holds a leary-eyed, spotted dog before him as both the symbol or object of his loyalty to which capricious desires he will pander through thick and thin.  Another painting entitled Matador shows a smartly clothed man in a blue shiny suit squatting atop a carabao which he has vanquished– the traditional landlord who has opposed all efforts at land distribution.

There are at least two divergent pictures of women as they show the wide range of women’s roles in present-day society.  One is a weary-looking barrio lass formally dressed in the Filipina costume in the shadow of Mayon Volcano.  But now she draws out her passport from her bodice and shows her destination as an OFW to be    Dubai in the Middle East with its recognizable architectural landmark

The other portrait of a woman is an amply endowed frontal nude.  A small coronet adorns her head while a lithe green snake encircles her neck.  Against the gilt-framed portraits of male contenders hanging in the space above the sea, she plays a game of chess with cold, scheming eyes, making adroit moves to bring fate to her advantage.

A striking painting makes vivid use of masks.  Superimposed on theater curtains flanking a central view are the masks of comedy and tragedy.  The mask on the right has an absurd swooning smile, while that on the left shows the utter despair of the blind or blinded.  Both masks are unusual because they bear bullet holes that tell of violent death. A sinister one-eyed man at the center holds aloft a prophetic third mask, stark and pure, the face of blind Cassandra howling at her vision of the future.  In the barren field beyond, a soldier in camouflage uniform aims its gun at a mother and child.

Aside from scrutinizing the distorted identities that a succession of colonizations and dictatorships have produced, Garibay is well aware of the salient place that religion has in the folk mind.  To be sure, many Filipino artists have appealed to the people’s piety infused with sentimentality for holy images with traditional iconography.  A popular folk practice, for one, is that of wiping the holy face with a handkerchief in the belief of absorbing miraculous healing properties. Garibay overlooks such pieties.  He goes beyond narrow, devotional practices tinged by a prescientific outlook to a broader and more modern framework.  This has resulted in his firm belief in ecumenism as the harmonious coexistence and interrelationship of all faiths: Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, etc, and therefore purified of presuppositions and cultural prejudices. While theological differences should cease to be the cause of wars, up to now, as in the Crusades of old, they are invoked by world leaders such as Bush, to foment animosity and prejudice in order to cover up the inordinate and rampant greed for the wealth of other nations.

Throughout the years, Garibay has developed an original iconography of the Christ figure.  He has strongly critiqued the traditional and stereotyped image of Christ as a white man, bearded, long-haired, immaculately robed, and taller than most folk—an image which is incongruous, even ludicrous, in Asian societies.  In many paintings, such as in a particular body of work being popularized today even in billboards, some artists valorize the Caucasian type implicitly suggesting that the godly, divine nature exists in foreign physical terms.  The Spanish colonial state conflated the Caucasian physical features of Christ with the worldly power of the State as it brought out the differences between ruler and ruled for its own interests.  But for Garibay, Christ has no particular physical being that artists may summon forth on canvas, for he believes that He can be embodied in every human being of whatever race and nation. Because of this, the artist has opened up and liberated the interpretation of Christ in art, for He can now assume the lineaments of different human beings of all backgrounds.

An example of the artist’s radical iconography is the recent work, Corpus Christi.  What strikes the viewer is the fact that the painting has different points of view, being largely circular in composition and showing a general avoidance of central focusing, The Christ-figure himself shows a contradiction , eyes-closed, he is the angry Christ driving away the money-lenders from the temple, but who is also the merciful Christ with calm eyes open on  the level of his heart.  There are also numerous aspects of Christ all around the painting.  This includes, the Sacred Heart, Christ crowned as King, the Christ in the body and blood of the Holy Mass. And along one side, there is no clearer statement of mortality and humanity as the long-nosed man sitting in the toilet  with a book spread over his legs. .

There is another big circular painting with another long-nosed man in the center.  His head is twisted around by a Rizal-like figure who seems to direct the man’s view away from his own self to the scene around him, consisting mainly of people asleep or absorbed in themselves.

Jose Rizal with his ilustrado coat is a figure who comes and goes in Garibay’s paintings.  Of distinct features, he is an icon of national awakening, if not anti-colonialism.  With his Spanish colonial enemies mainly gone, he now has to reckon with new figures on the scene with chameleon-like significations. Here, for instance, is the boxer Manny Pacquiao and a gun-wielding Abu Sayyaf figure while behind them afar-off are the Rizal monument and Mayon Volcano to signify the time that has elapsed in our history.

The times that seem to have gone from bad to worse throws up a multifarious imagery of society in crisis, not only of money but of morality likewise, that Emmanuel Garibay has scrutinized and gathered together in his art.  Thus, his is an art which abounds in subtle ironies and contradictions creating the picture of society currently caught in the feral grip of a massive corrupting power.