Books & Art

This 'Frontliners and Superheroes' Exhibit Is Haunting and Surreal

The paintings parse the truths from the constructed 'histories' taught in school.
ILLUSTRATOR Juanito Torres
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Philippine history is replete with stories of valor and courage, with heroes defending the honor of their family, village, nation, and countrymen. A country often builds its identity on the backs of the narratives it constructs around their heroes.

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Artist Juanito Torres has built his practice around the “mythologizing” aspects of Philippine nation-building. His paintings parse the truths from the constructed “histories” we are taught in school and lace them with a scathing awareness of how the efforts of historians, screenwriters, politicians, and the masses have appropriated, re-appropriated, and recycled Philippine heroes for whatever purposes they may serve. In this manner, his practice serves to stimulate the recent interest in history.

'Social Distancing, New Realities' 

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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'Museum, New Normal'

Photo by Juanito Torres.

Indeed, Torres’ practice is a vital component in fleshing out what it truly means to be Filipino. Torres' exhibit titled The New Reality: Truth is Stranger than Fiction will open on October 21 and run until October 31, 2020, at Galerie Joaquin at the UP Town Center in Diliman, Quezon City.

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Haunting, surreal, and technically astute, the new works that will be exhibited in his show are an invaluable visual entry point into Philippine reality, history, culture, and society. 

'Bookworm'

Photo by Juanito Torres.

'Coffee Time'

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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How does a nation find itself? The most obvious answer is that it finds meaning in its identity—and this identity is derived from a shared history and reality. The Philippines is, in many ways, an artificial nation whose boundaries were drawn by colonizers in the Age of Discovery. 

As a people then, Filipinos have always been bound by a sense of justice that came with independence and freedom. By shedding the mantle of servitude to a far-away state, we cease becoming their subjects and stand as our own people, with our own identity as a nation.

'Darating Din Ang Bagong Umaga'

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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'Enjoying the Cinema'

Photo by Juanito Torres.

This narrative is seemingly straightforward, with the antagonist being the colonizers or the COVID-19 virus, which deprives us of our place as a free nation. But the tragedy of the Philippines is that our history is peppered with stories of unknown enemies and Filipinos fighting Filipinos to the benefit of our external enemies. 

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What drives Torres, then, is the need for Filipinos to confront their past and face their present realities. His paintings reveal the artist’s search for the truth behind the story of the Philippine nation, and in the process, we discover new realities about ourselves. 

'Lupang Hinirang'

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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'Selfie'

Photo by Juanito Torres.

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'Understanding Rizal'

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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'Tagumpay'

Photo by Juanito Torres.

Torres' paintings become the meta-narratives in defining what it means to be a Filipino. What he found was the tendency to mythologize aspects of history as an explanation to modern perceptions, behaviors, and beliefs. Through this, he realized that Philippine history revolves around us and touches our lives in ways that we often take for granted. He also realized that we build our present-day heroes according to what we require and need.

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'Shopper and Figurine'

Photo by Juanito Torres.

'The Scream, Past and Present Tense'

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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'Museum Visit'

Photo by Juanito Torres.
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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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