HARBRINGERS of greed and destruction sit around a table to feast, a shadowy figure festooned with gold and the head of a crocodile lords over a landscape of desolation, and gaunt bodies find shelter from a swarm of locusts under a fragile umbrella.
In the first exhibit by a Filipino artist at the Hulot space of the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA), Jeho Bitancor’s “Poetic Dissent” introduces Ilonggos to his rare social realist lens – a lens that eschews imagery from Philippine folklore and myth, marrying it with contemporary symbols of death, corruption, and excess, among others, to comment on the ills of Philippine society.
“I have always sought a balance between the manner of expressing my concerns as an artist and articulating my discontent as a human being,” shares Bitancor, a decorated visual artist who has already showcased his works in New York and Singapore.
“I believe that art must embody our highest aspirations in terms of expertise, intellectual rigor, and imagination, yet must also be responsive to and reflective of the zeitgeist or the spirit of the times,” he continued.
In “Ang Piging,” Bitancor summons a rogue’s gallery of the Philippines’ maladies personified: a butcher with his bloody apron, a faceless military man, a bejeweled heiress with pig ears, a barong-clad reptile – a grim backhoe jutting out from where its head should be.
“Pagtutuos” depicts diwatas – traditional guardians of nature – battling mechanical arms, as images of severed trees and sprawling cityscapes creep into the foreground. The largest piece in the collection, the mammoth “Polarity of Extremes” – standing at 7 feet by 11 feet – offers a tableau of suffering, pained bodies struggling to wade through black tar, fish bones and skeletons, as an eerie and sinister figure towers above them all.
For the US-based Filipino contemporary artist, art reflects his social standpoint and struggle. Fueled by passion and shaped by experiences, Bitancor breathes new life and meaning to his artworks by recognizing the “poetic potential” of each subject and highlighting society’s issues.
“In my works, I strive to discern the ‘poetic potential’ of each subject / object in order to narrate on issues of social and philosophical significance. I employ juxtaposition and metamorphosis as strategies to create allegories, ironies, parodies, and parallelisms,” explains Bitancor.
“In particular, I have created works that have dealt with alienation, conspiracy, displacement, resistance and assertion while integrating a pictorial language sourced out from personal and universal symbolisms,” he continued.
Bitancor’s penchant for iconography is evident in the way he uses imagery raw and familiar to Filipinos to relay his narratives. The multi-awarded artist references Filipino “lamanlupa” (fairies and other elementals), the origin myth of “Malakas and Maganda,” indigenous flora and fauna (tamaraws, seahorses, deer, tilapia) – juxtaposed against destructive backhoes, austere gavels, mounds of scrap metal, and the mangled remains of a “salvage” victim.
This writer’s favorite bit of appropriation is Bitancor’s use of the indigenous atis fruit (appearing in “Ang Piging” and “The Tie that Binds”) – known abroad as the sugar apple – as a Filipino stand-in for the potent pomegranate, a double-edged symbol of life, rebirth, and fertility, but also evoking war (due to its grenade-like shape) and bloodshed (for its crimson seeds).
“We are truly honored to host Jeho Bitancor and his masterpieces here at ILOMOCA as part of our commitment to promote the splendid works of Filipino artists. This is also our way of continuing to deepen the role of arts and culture in the development of townships all over the country,” said Tefel Pasigan-Valentino, vice president of Megaworld Lifestyle Malls and Megaworld Foundation.
The ILOMOCA is Megaworld’s first-ever museum venture, located inside the Iloilo Business Park, the company’s bustling township development in Western Visayas. The facility proudly embraces the distinction as the first art institution in Visayas and Mindanao exclusively dedicated to showcasing the works of mostly Filipino artists within the realm of modern and contemporary art.
“Poetic Dissent” is a two-month exhibit featuring Jeho Bitancor’s latest works that will run from Sept. 8 until Nov. 7.
As a multi-awarded visual artist with local and international recognition, Bitancor has mounted 23 solo painting exhibitions. The most recent one were: “Paradox of Living” at Altro Mondo Arte Contemporanea and “Not so Random Narratives”at the Bliss on Bliss Art Projects in New York.
Bitancor is also a recipient of the following awards: one of the 13 artists awardees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2006; the Dangal ng Aurora Award as Outstanding Citizen of Aurora in 2005; the Award of Recognition for Excellence in Visual Arts from the Museo de Baler, Aurora Province; and the Freeman Foundation Asian Artists’ Fellowship Award from the Vermont Studio Center in the USA in 1997.
The Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art is now offering an ILOMOCA membership card that entitles its bearer to year-round admission into the museum, even allowing them to bring along one guest for free.
The card, available at the ILOMOCA lobby, also grants its owner priority invitations to the museum’s special exhibits, events, lectures, workshops, and lectures for one whole year.
With the membership, you can get a 5 percent discount on all ILOMOCA house brand merchandise, a 10 percent discount on theatrical events held at the museum, as well as a free birthday freebie from the museum’s gift shop.
The first of its kind museum in the Visayas and Mindanao, ILOMOCA is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays. Entrance fees are P100 for regular patrons, P50 for students, and P80 for senior citizens./PN