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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.

Faith in Fairness

by Patrick D. Flores

The title of the exhibition strikes at the core of this latest foray of Emmanuel Garibay into the realm of the sacred.  The artist in his corpus has keenly reflected on the profound implications of spiritual life in the Philippines. It is common to come across the characterization of Christianity or Catholicism in the Philippines as “folk” or “split-level.” Along with the intense mestizaje in the culture is the heightened degree of hybridity in the translation of the foreign.  It is also not seldom to hear the notion that western religion has been woven into the ethnographic fabric so intricately that the figure of outside and the ground of inside have seamlessly meshed, giving credence to theories of assimilation or  that vexing word, adaptation. The contrary has, however, been argued as well: that belief in a colonial religion had been a decisive break, a rupture and not a synthesis of so many translations from ingenious indigenes.

Garibay – an attentive student of art, sociology, and divinity — nuances this conversation by proposing the idea of “irreverence,” as extensively contemplated. In the history of images in Philippine art, such an impulse has led to either iconoclasm or scatology. For instance, in the work of Manuel Ocampo and Mideo Cruz, the critique of institutional doctrine or dogma or orthodoxy is so thoroughgoing and resolute, it unerringly wounds the “culture” in the same vein. Alfredo Esquillo, for his part, has conscientiously traced the devotional path of this religion, reliving the Passion as a pervasive trope in the quest for salvation and renewal.

In this exhibition, Garibay grapples with the phrase “walang sinasanto” with his usual ponderous elaborations, painting after painting, hinting at the span of so many years of thinking, revising, patiently waiting for epiphanies. Perhaps, when the artist paints, he prays, too: that is, he “waits” like in a cenacle that is his studio where both the banal and the sublime mingle and morph. In this room of expectation, the gift of intimacy suffuses the creative atmosphere. The phrase “walang sinasanto” is at once brazen and chastening, either way challenging the conceit of whatever power resides in a person or institution — and the posture of the latter.

On the one hand, deeming nothing or no one sacred means deeming everything or everyone human, animating them, rendering them intimate. In this process of intimating or making intimate, the sacred becomes an intimate, co-suffering with the sufferant. Ethnography confirms this relationship, explaining that when a Catholic Filipino, for instance, seeks succor, he or she speaks to a kin or as a kin, in a way obliging the agent of succor to reciprocate with affinity. The plea for sympathy is nearly guaranteed by devotion. Such reciprocation is anticipated and is deserved because the supplicant has earned it through acts of imitation, of suffering with the sacred, of taking on the habits of the sacred, who has become verisimilarly vulnerable. This is one meaning of “walang sinasanto.” The other alludes to a loss of this intimacy, of the ethico-moral valence of the sacred human who has secured the rights of equivalence with the erstwhile divine. This loss is degenerative, creating conditions of the miserable and the decadent. In other words, it breeds corruption. The artist rails against this loss and links it up with the festering ills of the culture and the country.

With these two positions inflecting each other, Garibay tries to find the most compelling imagery and stroke to enliven the complexity of the ties between the sacred and the human. With regard to the critique of indulgence, of the mimicry of power and its excesses, the critic Alice Guillermo crafts the acute phrase “subtle jaundiced tone” to describe the chromatic climate of this critique. The tinge of jaundice is recurring in his oeuvre, layered with a haze of slight sulfur. It conjures a toxic environment and a diseased body politic.  Because the bent is polemical, there is to be gleaned here a cogent pedagogical moment in the social types that are propped up as embodiments of the dramatis personae in what is clearly a struggle against inequity.  This effort to teach the public through the political picture can be traced to the artist’s seasons as an activist in the eighties through the nineties and his practice as a diligent interlocutor of religion.  The logic of the editorial cartoon and the mural is apparent, a device that addresses the urgency of the commentary on the news and foibles of the day and largely makes use of parody to cut the indiscretion of authority to size and the hubris of humanity into pieces. Thus, there is this sense of blur sometimes, a fragmentation or disintegration of the tectonic structure that holds “man” and the “world” precariously together.

Garibay, however, does not only dwell on negation. He endeavors to reconstruct sacred life, perhaps to pursue the vocation of art in the context of religion and its spiritual impulse: not to “hark back to an imagined lost paradise” but to “depict within space and time, imaginatively and provisionally…the final transfiguration of the cosmos.”[1] A salient part of this transfiguration is the way the spiritual permeates everyday life through juxtaposition and the persistent presence of religious personage in the quotidian situation, the motif of the stigmata, and the citation of the Biblical scenography dissolving into historical passage. Iconographies that whirl in the cultural scape are refunctioned through a heady mix of the tableau and the collage to reference both miracle and legerdemain.

A recent book on the anthropology of Christianity edited by an astute scholar who has done work on “power and intimacy” in the Bicol peninsula points to the tension in the religion’s investments in incarnation and resurrection as well as the duality that has never failed to bedevil. On the one hand, according to Fenella Cannell, “the mediation of the power of a God withdrawn from the world of mortal men…becomes a key trope in the anthropology of Christianity.” On the other, quoting the anthropologist of the “gift” Marcel Mauss, “it is Christians who have made a metaphysical entity of the ‘moral person’ after they become aware of its religious power.” This conception of the “human person” is Christianity’s legacy of “radical discontinuity” between “man and the “world.”[2]

Garibay confronts these contradictions and labors towards an idiom that intuit the ecology in which they play out. While the complexion of his painting is expressionist, self-conscious about the properties of material, he is able to create translucent planes where strata of details congeal or interpenetrate each other seemingly in defiance of paint’s density. Among these are traces of bodies and their displaced parts; others are religious vessels and indices of church and creed in suspended animation or instances of apparition, sometimes straying into the daily grind like some inveterate specter.  Distortion is a key procedure as well, a method of seeing and constitution of form, giving the artist the opportunity to exemplify a distorted view or a distorted sight within a range of ramifications: parody, caricature, grotesquerie, the carnivalesque, abstraction, and so on. There is attenuation, hyperbole, hectic dismemberment of the corporeal and the redistribution of “flesh.” There is a drastic “reformation” of the socius and the bios. In an interview, we come to understand that the core of Garibay’s belief lies in the belongingness of Christ among what Shakespeare would describe as the quintessence of dust, a nativity that is abject: “I see more affirmation in my faith as a Christian because one of the things I realize is something very radical about Christianity. For instance, the birth of Jesus to me is a very radical statement about a king being born among the poor.”[3] To locate fate among the dispossessed inevitably prompts Garibay to portray the “mass” in various circumstances: in the jeepney, in feasts and humble repasts, in the squalor of slums, in rallies in dense streets. This “mass” is pivotal in the movement of a possible revolution, a radicality to which the artist’s Christ aspires.

Perhaps in anticipation of his future sorties into a new series of paintings, a conversation with the thoughts of the philosopher Giorgio Agamben might prove productive. Agamben relates how the basis of life in freedom is the precondition to its inclusion in that contingent life: “The proximity between the sphere of sovereignty and the sphere of the sacred…is not simply the secularized residue of the originary religious character of every political power, nor merely the attempt to grant the latter a theological foundation. And this proximity is just as little the consequence of the ‘sacred’ – that is, august and accursed – character that inexplicably belongs to life as such…Life is sacred only insofar as it is taken into sovereign exception, and to have exchanged a juridico-political phenomenon…for a genuinely religious phenomenon…human life is included in the political order in being exposed to an unconditional capacity to be killed.”[4] Therefore: “Walang sinasanto.” No one is “spared.”

It is in these levels of proximities in “life” that its sacredness is threatened and fulfilled, refused and replenished: the epistle of Garibay to a critical, helplessly hopeful faithful.




[1] Begbie, Jeremy. 1997. Ed. Colin E. Gunton. “Christianity and the Cultures: Christianity and the Arts.” The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 116.

[2] Cannell, Fenella, ed. 2006. “Introduction.” The Anthropology of Christianity. Durham: Duke University Press, p. 18.

[3] Interview with Emmanuel Garibay by Daniel Nicholas. New Haven: Overseas Ministries Study Center, no publication details.

[4] Agamben, Giorgio. 1998.  Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.  85.

The ‘Crux’ of the matter

By Lito Zulueta


Philippine Daily Inquirer (October 15, 2007)


MANILA, Philippines – Image and word compose a universe both familiar and strange in “Crux,” described by its organizer, CANVAS (, as an “exposition of paintings and poems,” at the Ayala Museum starting Oct. 18. The word denotes the large-scale exhibit of Emmanuel Garibay’s paintings (some 20 works, which is quite big for a new show) while connoting the strategy of the verses by young poet Angelo Suarez that complement the canvases, the poetry being an expounding or explanation of the issues posed by the paintings.


A collaboration between Garibay and Suarez, “Crux” does not so much locate the pivotal point where and when image and word clash or bond, as stir the conundrum and the poser whether indeed meaning is fixed and reinforced by the tandem (of the image and word, not of Garibay and Suarez, although whether the latter pair embodies the former’s concepts is itself one of the “cruxes” of the matter).


The scholarly jargon here is “problematize.” Do signifier and signified indeed synthesize? The exhibit shows there’s no clear answer; the matter is, to say the least, “problematic.”

Consider the gestation. It appears that Garibay first did his paintings that became later the template and trigger for Suarez’s inspired versification. The result is not so much complementarity, as one-upmanship, the image, being immediate and seductive, luring the viewer to the canvas, making it the basis for determining the meaning of the verses beside it. This appears to reverse the Johannine dictum, “In the beginning was the word,” making of the image deity and determiner.


But since, as Suarez writes, “The referent was bracketed out/ because the referent, too,/ is a sign,” and “You cannot use language after all/ Rather, it is language that uses you,” the words find a compelling energy all their own to commit to a trajectory away from the precursor-painting. The result is not so much crux, but flux.


As Suarez writes in the verses that accompany Garibay’s paintings of the exterior and interior of a packed jeepney, “w/c-ever crams/ the meaning best/ packs the most signification.”

But because he has a more evolved imagery, Garibay’s works mesmerize and transfix. Here are the vintage Garibay images: a withering critique of folk Catholicism and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, a heady rendering of Manila’s urban chaos, the sheer clutter and utter nausea of inner-city living. The images compose a veritable iconography, a network of meanings and interpretations.


All of this of course lends well to Suarez’s city-seared, Rastah-spirited poesy. Both Garibay and Suarez, after all, are poets of the streets, their essential spirit uncannily fused, for example, in the painting and poetry about a woman’s back clad in manton de Manila, which was famous in Europe during the Spanish era and was supposed to have come from Manila but was really from China, a metaphor of the complexity of meanings and locations as well as the tortuous complexion of the so-called Filipino soul, a complexity that is best rendered as mimesis, farce, parody, and inevitably, nihilism: “The spine is a window through which peers out the travesty of mimesis, the mime acting out the clown acting out the comedy acting out the actor acting to the tune of nothing in particular-really- . . .”

Despite his images holding dominion, Garibay takes to Suarez’s linguistic games by painting a university don holding a pipe, on which Suarez inscribes the famous words of Rene Magritte about his painting of a pipe, “This is not a pipe.”


The meaning of the collaboration becomes apparent: image and word in one canvas invoke what Michel Foucault describes as “the separation between linguistic signs and plastic elements; equivalence of resemblance and affirmation,” which means the tension that exists in classical painting that excludes language and meaning. By joining image and word in one canvas, Magritte provides a discursive space for painting and poetry to interact. Whether they come to a modus vivendi of some meaning is for the viewer-reader to decide. And that’s the “Crux” of the matter.


THE Quintessential Artist-Storyteller

by Christiane L. de la Paz

Emmanuel Garibay was born on November 17, 1962 in Kidapawan, North Cotabato by a father who worked as a pastor in a Methodist church and a mother who worked in the city engineer’s office. His family moved to Davao city where he spent a secure and happy childhood. In 1968, then only six, Garibay’s mother provided the earliest significant encouragement for his artistic talent. His work even as a young boy showed a grasp of human character, particularly of soldiers. Young boys are always fascinated with men in uniform, he says. I then went to a phase of doodling robots, tanks, and make-believe characters.

He recalls with great relish as a child growing in Davao that he was taken in by the awe of owning a bicycle. The bicycle spelled freedom and fun that took him around the neighborhood and the lakes with his friends. The young Garibay would always set off on his bicycle and pedalled up the drive with his friends to explore new places and meet new people. I love Davao, he muses, describing it as charming and wild in so many senses of the word.

Davao provided the ideal environment for the young Garibay’s intense aesthetic sense; it was a much visited place by artists, including Victorio Edades (1895-1985), Ang Kiukok (1931-2005), and sculptor Napoleon Abueva. He had begun his schooling in 1968 at the public school, where he was surrounded by fun-loving children of the town, who exemplified camaraderie in his everyday life. He had an inexplicable attraction to the place and was attached to the area by an invisible umbilical cord, which could never be cut and forgotten. He said of his childhood every house has an old man or woman, a drunken man, a gang of kids roaming around town, and lots of stray dogs.

In 1979, his elder siblings left for Manila to pursue their college education. Garibay, however, went to pursue his studies in the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna. Garibay was majoring in sociology, a course, which he jokingly says i ticked off in my college application form. The course introduced to him the set of perspectives on human life that allowed him to understand how personal lives are affected by one’s place in society and that the events and experiences in one’s life are part of group dynamics, social institutions, and cultural meanings. This appears to have made a significant impact on him as this was later on to influence his subject matter.

While his heart was not so much in it, Garibay’s artistic studies were more consistent than the rest of his education. When he was a college sophomore, he applied as an illustrator for the university’s community newspaper, Perspective, where he met Edna Jaococo, a beautiful Chinese mestiza from the nearby town, who was majoring in veterinary medicine and whom he courted for two years and eventually married. It was in this same period when he discovered the joy of painting and soon all interest in sociology was gone.

In college, I spent an enormous amount of time meeting with other students from UP Diliman, he shares. There were times when we skipped class and proceed to Mendiola to rally. We spent our allowances buying canvases and paints and work day in and out to use in our rallies. The students whom I interacted with were using their art to epitomize the suffering and realism of the time. It seemed like it was the natural thing to do; painting these pictures to insert information that was going through our heads. I was also doing sports to balance my student life.


Two years later, the artist moved back to Manila and landed his second job as a tour guide and curator assistant in the Malacañan Palace Museum. In between his work, he steals time to pursue his passion to paint. Garibay made a promise to himself to never abandon his passion regardless of his day job. I don’t want to forget about painting, he shares. I never want to put my talent to waste so I paint in my spare time. I bring materials with me at work to make up for my boring work in the palace.

In 1985, as he was always far more interested in painting and drawing, Garibay returned to his studies in the University of the Philippines in Diliman to pursue a degree in the Fine Arts to learn the disciplines necessary in order to paint. While Garibay entered the artworld fairly late in his life, he made fast progress once he was in it. He became aware of the avant-garde trends of figurative expressionism where artists combined phantasmagoric visions with psychological insight James Ensor (Belgian, 1860-1949), Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian 1886-1980), Elaine de Kooning (American, 1918-1929), Robert Beauchamp (American, 1923-1995) and those who delved darkly and mordantly into the grotesque such as Goya and Bosch. While he turned to avant-garde themes and styles, his early works were of traditional subjects. It was clear that even at his student days, Garibay was already exhibiting that strange mixture of conservatism and radicalism that characterized his artistic career. At the age of 24, he was set to make a career in painting.

Garibay’s career as a visual artist was not exactly on fire after graduating from Fine Arts — even though it had percolated with a lot of promise from nearly the beginning. For a period of three years, beginning in 1990, Garibay went through an artistic crisis. Like many of his peers, he was without a gallery and his earlier paintings had gone unsold. Garibay fondly tells his first attempt to exhibit It was very hard back then, he recalls. We approached some galleries but we could not get any kind of clear approval whether they will exhibit us or not. It was then that I decided to have my first solo exhibit in our house in Fairview with fifteen small-scale paintings to show. It was raining hard that night. Mark (Justiniani), Karen (Flores) came to give their support. Johnny Alcazaren and Bernie Pacquing arrived from Pasig riding their bicycles. They were soaked when they arrived. My wife prepared steamed corn and macaroni soup for everyone. Looking back, I was happy that I was able to pursue my plan to exhibit. That exhibit started the idea for artists to hold their exhibit in series of houses. After that, our next exhibit was in Elmer Borlongan’s house in Nuevo de Pebrero in Mandaluyong.

Following his introductory sampling, Garibay’s self-directed works emphasized study of the masters. In museums and in book references, he consulted paintings by El Greco, Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine, and Bosch. While Garibay admired and studied the works of foreign masters, none even begin to compare to the tremendous impact of Ben Cabrera, Malang, Federico Alcuaz, Angelito Antonio, Danny Dalena, and Nena Saguil upon his works. More important by far are his firsthand observations of other artists’ works Elmer Borlongan, Ferdie Montemayor, Marcel Antonio, Jason Moss, whose art takes real and imagined stories as their starting points and allows the complex narratives in their works to evolve.


The artist’s uncertainty as an upcoming artist did not last that long. In 1993, Garibay held his first one man exhibition in Liongoren gallery with the collective title Pasada. I never thought I’d break into the art scene. I had so many doubts when I was starting. Some of my works look dirty and the draftsmanship is not clean.

His first one-man exhibition showed his ability to paint in oil while demonstrating his talent to tell a story in his works. Oil is his favorite medium. It has given his works layers of marks, shapes and forms. When you look at a painting done in oil, it tells more stories than what you see. If it is handled correctly, oil paintings are pulsating with life. You put a layer of colors after one layer to produce a certain kind of color. Sometimes it may not look that beautiful the first time but the longer you look at it, the more that it grows on you. Oil could have that effect on the viewer.

Subsequently, Garibay won the Juror’s Choice Award in the same year and received a certificate of merit from the Art Association of the Philippines. Ramon and Lay Ann Orlina bought that piece and acquired two more of my paintings.

With his first winning, Garibay slowly began his ascension. This time he approached his work with a new directness and seriousness. He added poignant religious subjects, siege compositions, and figure collages with political themes in his repertoire. His succeeding exhibits were held in several galleries in Manila which include among others, the British Council gallery, Boston gallery, West gallery, and many times over, the Liongoren gallery. In 1994, he visited Spain and competed for II Bienal del Baloncesto en Balles Artes. He placed second in the painting category. The following years, Garibay continued to travel widely in Europe, Asia, and the United States, bringing with his large-scale commissions he received and pieces he entered in several art competitions abroad.

Garibay, in a past interview described the experience, as having working class type of shoppers who spent time surveying my paintings while others gave my work a sweeping glance and walked on. While his works did not sell right away, this establishes him as a visual artist of exceptional promise. It demonstrated his preoccupation with the images which he holds dear – the masa.

Many of Garibay’s paintings focus on everyday people and places. He painted ordinary people in an attempt to portray them as a political entity. In this way Garibay’s activism showed through in his work. He truthfully portrayed ordinary people and places, leaving out the glamour that most Filipino artists added to their works. Garibay says that, it is the richness of the poor that I am drawn to and which I am part of that I want to impart in my art. He bemoans that among the things that are central to him is the knowledge of the self– the individual vis-à-vis the community or a collective self-awareness which he feels is lacking in the consciousness of the Filipinos.

For many years, the artist continued to herald the working class in his paintings but in his later works, he began to gravitate towards new kinds of modern subject matters musicians, harlequins, mother and child, and the family. His palette lightened significantly as he added more objects with brighter colors. I wait for the right time for me to paint these subjects, he explains. I don’t stay long in the same style. I work everyday and the truth is, you don’t feel the same way everyday. When I paint, it’s all about my ideas so even if I paint some sentimental themes, it has to be according to how I would like it to be. It should be the kind of relationship that exists between two persons.


In Pagbabalik Loob (2002), Garibay portrayed a powerful image of a man embracing a child. He allowed the emotion to come forward out of two faces; devoiding the canvas with any other details. It proposed a new paradigm for the presentation of a common theme but of particular value to viewers but thoroughly accessible and of real interest to a casual observer. Garibay often played games with scale by employing enormous precision to depict a feature at a great distance, he does this very well in his emphasis with the hands of his subjects. Garibay’s execution of hands is both symbolic and expressive. Like the great master sculptor, Auguste Rodin, Garibay saw the hands as able to express the emotions of the entire body. Hands become important tools of expressions and are points of connection and passing between people.

Drawn by the many possibilities of his personal experiences and his environment, Garibay is also fascinated with depicting crowds in his paintings. He seemed to have something of a love-hate relationship with this subject, for he once said that crowds are one of the more interesting images for me to paint but I hate crowds. I hate being in crowded and suffocating places. Sometimes, I merged with the flow of crowds when I go to the market as it serves as a good source of images for me. I go to the market without the thought of buying something but just to observe and be with the crowd.

With a showmanship that is almost always flamboyant and sometimes controversial, humor informs many of the most interesting works of Garibay. Perhaps a good example is The Bishop Takes A Bow. With the idea that beasts, vipers, and monsters descend upon mild-mannered men; a bishop is shown garb in white tunic and deep red himation; while a head of the giant, sinuous snake hovers overhead. The artist deliberately used harsh, garish and violent colors to embody the wildness of his subjects and other menacing creatures reminiscent of those in Francisco de Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.


A different kind of story is presented in Sagrada Familia (2000) with the haloed Joseph in crowning thorns in the company of Mary and the little boy Jesus pinching his mother’s left nipple. The artist offers food for thought as well as curiosity to those who view this work. Why is the Holy Family naked inside a jeepney in the modern world There was nothing casual about the composition, nothing at all. Garibay created a thought-provoking composition that tears apart the construction of family. The spiritual atmosphere that the subjects deserve was lifted from the clichés of parenthood the over-protective father and the self-sacrificing mother. This time he took the subject out of their context and experimented with the subject’s form, gesture, and expression. This piece is kept from the sentimentality inherent in his other works and perhaps be best explained by an analysis of the artist’s early life, in which traditional Filipino values vied with the influence of radical modern ideas. Garibay produced many pieces in this manner.


Garibay has been attacked as an artist who uses his political skills to foster non-threatening humor to preach in his works. I always preach in my paintings. That’s intentional because I’m trying to impart ideas but I try not to be preachy in terms of its appearance. I want the ideas to get across in a more subtle way. If it becomes direct then that becomes propaganda and it’ll be in bad taste. Art is all about a piece of idea that you want to share, a way of seeing the world that you want people to be appreciative of their world.

Once you become an artist you’d know how it feels to be God– to create something out of nothing, he adds. At first you look at a blank canvas and suddenly its build up with life. When I don’t feel like painting, I just sit infront of the painting. If I stare at the canvas long enough, it’s like wrestling with the canvas. I have a very competitive mentality so I don’t want the canvas to win over me.

As an artist, Garibay believes that skills are developed as one pursues his passion. He explains that skills become the inevitable consequence of one’s passion. All forms of art have to have a high degree of craftsmanship. The quality of the craftsmanship will categorize your work as an art form. Hindi puede yung bara-bara na lang then sasabihin mong art yon. That’s why I always insist on passion kasi something that you do over the years will inevitably be of high level of craftsmanship in time.


In 2000, the Cultural Center of the Philippines recognized his talents, achievements, and contributions and was honored the Thirteen Artist award for visual arts. From then on, Garibay’s art has become a masculine art unfussy, brusque, direct. They all chose to explore the truth of what he saw but not a single one lacks beauty or dignity.

Emmanuel Garibay is more than just the thinker and artist of the working class. He remains a cultural icon in Philippine art, revered and loved by those who knew him or who met him in a game of basketball or chess or just roaming around the market. Even though he was in many respects an educated activist, he retained the warmth, common touch, humor and manners of the working class people he had grown up with and who he loved and mixed with daily. Emmanuel Garibay remained truly and deeply loyal to the plebeian culture that had spawned him, his politics, religion, and his art.