THE Philippines’ culture of killings and impunity has converted the word “salvage” – meaning “to rescue or save, especially from wreckage or ruin” – into a more sinister term.
In our country, “salvage” has become synonymous with summary executions and bodies being dumped indiscriminately. Whether it be a Filipinization of the Spanish word “salvaje” or an expression coined during the martial law era, the origins of this adulterated term is debated to this day.
Three Ilonggo sculptors coming from underprivileged backgrounds have chosen to subvert the ominous word, naming their collaborative show “Salvage” as they sculpt social commentary and visceral masterpieces from “retaso” and discarded pieces of wood, “saving” them – if you will – to express their compelling voices, especially in times like these.
The three cousins, Jeanroll Ejar, Tyrone Espinosa, and Jun Orland Espinosa, come from a clan of wood carvers, their parents earning a modest living by crafting furniture and other household furnishings. The three share that they’ve practically grown up in their fathers’ small shops, helping assemble chairs, tables, and other wooden creations since they were teenagers – as their families struggled to make ends meet and send them to school.
Ejar relates that, at a young age, he would cobble together scraps and retaso timber from around his father’s small workshop, so he could use them for his own projects. Pretty soon he started experimenting, not just using wood to craft furniture, but as a medium for art as well – his younger cousins then followed suit.
“Poverty is what pushed us to experiment using this material: retaso wood,” explains Jun Orland. “As an artist you need to be resourceful. I found these scrap pieces of wood everywhere in our parent’s workshop, and even in the ugliest forms I knew beauty was hidden just beneath it.”
From scrap pieces of teakwood, gemilina, molave, mahogany, and acacia planks, the three have sculpted masterworks that delve on the harsh realities of the Philippines’ underprivileged masses in “Salvage” – each of the three artists having their own unique aesthetic and unmistakable voice.
“We chose ‘Salvage’ as our title because of its great impact,” Jeanroll told Panay News. “What may first come to mind is an act of killing, [but seeing our pieces] you may begin to realize that [through our art] we aim to rescue something from complete destruction.”
Tyrone Dave, known in Iloilo’s art circles for his meticulously detailed chain sculptures, takes his signature style to its grittiest in “Rehas na Bakal ang Ingay,” or “Grating Noise” – a roughly 4 feet by 6 feet panel filled to the brim with carved chains, all interlocking and overlapping, bound only by a heavy crimson red frame. Chains are double-edged symbols, connoting both bondage and strength, and they’ve proven to be a recurring theme for Tyrone Dave, as he speaks about the unseen shackles that bound all of us.
Meanwhile, Jun Orland’s visceral pieces are littered with mangled faced all screaming to be heard. The younger Espinosa is most gripping in “Perception of Insanity” as he depicts a gaggle of maws being bound and gagged as they struggle to shout and whimper.
Lastly, Jeanroll – who recently won second prize in the prestigious national GSIS Art Competition – expands his “Upuan series in “Salvage,” as he crafts miniature chairs out of salvaged wood, all ripe with commentary, as well as being a tribute of sorts to his furniture maker parents.
“My thrones in [in the ‘Upuan’ series] touch on sociopolitical concepts,” mused Jeanroll. “Thrones often connote position, power. I want my pieces to serve as allegories on control and authority.”
In “Patong,” Jeanroll has a shadowy gun-toting figure towering over a toppled over throne, “Inupuan” has the upper half of a visibly pregnant woman jutting out from a forlorn chair – touching on the marginalization of women. Jenroll’s largest piece is the obsidian-colored “Ang di mabuklat-buklat na aklat,” carved from heavy gemilina depicts a hardbound book strapped shut to a throne by thick knots of rope.
“We want our spectators to learn something from our art, our thoughts and points of view,” said Jeanroll. “Through ‘Salvage,’ we hope viewers will ponder their place in society, his or her role in this country.”
The three-man show “Salvage” – an unapologetic effort – speaks volumes about the cousins Jeanroll, Tyrone Dave, and Jun Orland – talented young sculptors coming from underprivileged families who’ve turned their disadvantages into their strengths, saving scrap pieces of wood one plank at a time and transforming them into considerable bodies art and craftsmanship./PN