Wrapping Our Heads Around Salvador Ching's 'Pabalat' Exhibit


Salvador Ching's Pabalat is many things. It can mean alay or pabaon or pasalubong. But simply put, it's a gift. Each of the 60 pieces of work is meant to unravel, avoiding stagnation and linearity. What this means, we will try to explain in a second.

This is Ching's 16th solo exhibition, and it's about the act of giving and its unilateral elements. The artist's work has always been geographical in a sense, anthropological in its dissection. He maps the elements out of ideas, reshaping materials in their image. Pabalat is no different. It's a gift wrapped in social quandaries and boundless intangible Filipino qualities.

The multi-disciplinary artist's work, we may say, encompasses the experimental and conceptual, transcending the plain, old boundaries of shapes and forms. In Pabalat, we get several motifs crisscrossed all over. If there was a commonality among them, it is the nostalgic imagery of Filipiniana. This is a subject that has won Ching the prestige of the contemporary art world, using it as an instrument since the early days of his career in the '90s.

"Bagahe 1" (2022) by Salvador Ching, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas.


Ching's latest showcase lets us wrap our heads around covers and layers and smokescreens. By picking apart "wrapping," it hopes to unpack what it conceals the most.

It has as much to do with the book covers and ornate cutout wrappers of Bulacan pastillas de leche as it does with its associations (the craft, the human element, the manner of delivery, the burdens we choose to carry—the values ascribed, basically). This is most evident in series titles like "Alay," "Offering," "Bagahe," "Pagsuyo," "Pambalot." It's a showcase of the interconnectedness of third-worlders, as people who've been torn apart for centuries.

The Bulacan-raised Ching grew up with a stern understanding of culture and history. Born out of a box of photographs he inherited from his own grandmother, Lola Loleng, the works in Pabalat are a reminder of his roots in Bulacan. They traverse Ching's own historical, creative, and personal memory. The history of Malolos, for example, is synonymous with Ching's techniques and own family background. It's where the Malolos Constitution, the first of its kind in Asia, was produced, and it's where Ching's family had originated from.

"Delivery Man" (2022) by Salvador Ching and Roen Capule, Resin and Wood.

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The artist also references Jose Rizal. We may recall that during the events that transpired around the  time of the Malolos Congress, Rizal praised the women of Malolos for lobbying educational reforms for all women. They called for greater participation of women in politics and other aspects of the social life. This is what reclamation looks like. Ching's Lola Loleng is a byproduct of such vision, considering that she, herself, taught during the era of the American protectorate.

His adaption of imagery into screen-prints over the years is symbolic of all these influences. They're visually striking, to say the least and carry the perpetuity of historical and personal connection.

"Encounter Series" (2022) by Salvador Ching, Mixed Media on Paper Bag.


We also observe an array of mixed-used iconography in his work, by way of muted earth tones, stark neutrals, pastel colors, and more. These serve as the backdrop for metallic compasses. As seen in black photographic stencils of women and men of Malolos from the 1920s, Ching's brand of artistic kneading is on full display.


Written in graphite on the paintings are the marginal notes written by Ching himself. Here, he expounds on the dynamic of social relations. Our culture is replete with references that illustrate the different dimensions of gifts. Western versus eastern views of this are inherently different. The west reaps the benefits of a culture of individualistic excess while the east relies on community to survive.

Initially, Ching was inspired by National Artist Benedicto (BenCab) Cabrera's Larawan series. The multi-hyphenated artist admires BenCab for the use of photographs ever-present in his depictions of Filipino life. Documented here, on the other hand, are dresses during the various colonial periods that the country has been subjected to. They have a strong sense of identity, which they had been robbed of by overlords.

"Encounter Series" (2022) by Salvador Ching, Mixed Media on Paper Bag and "De Kahon" (2022) by Salvador Ching, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas.


Take the ubiquitous brown paper bag, for instance. In his first group of works, some 20 pieces of these innocuous objects are used as a support mechanism for transfer. Ching playfully transforms these images with accoutrements of the times (earphones, cellphones, and various 21st-century devices). These are meant to demonstrate the said transfer of cultural practice and bygone beliefs.

They are rendered in various ways throughout this exhibit, depicted through Filipiniana imagery. They're what we might call pasalubong or pabaon. These reinterpretations of giving came about, like most others, during the quarantine.

As this relationship with the past grew, so did the artist's deeper appreciation for the community that comes from giving. We may observe archaically dressed Filipinos wearing contemporary masks, gear, and more in this particular collection. Ching attacks this correlation by examining the social contract: to give means to take away some personal and civil liberties and vice versa.

Ching started painting over a brown bag and here we are. The same central ideas engulf Ching's resin sculptures, as well. The 14 sculptures are bathed in colorful pastel and neon, yet dry themselves off with somber neutrals.

"Pasalubong 1" (2022) by Salvador Ching, Resin and Wood.


Ching, interestingly, also demonstrates an intimate understanding of the fractures and fragments that come with fostering relationships. A certain nostalgia and tenderness are evoked. Moreover, the permutations that are birthed at the expense of these damages can be just as beautiful, reinvigorating and building new life around the cracks.

Alay, we can say, is a word more appropriate for deities and the divine. Pabaon, on the other hand, is used when someone's about to leave (very human in that sense). Both are acts of remembrance, generosity, and care, even if they have different intentions to them. Ching tackles this in lively representation. It's "out there" in its inwardness. And that's what makes this exhibit deliciously rich in texture. It's like what they say: no one has ever gotten poor by giving.

Pabalat will run until October 11, 2022 at Art Lounge Manila in The Podium, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City. 

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is a Filipino cultural critic, editor, and essayist. He writes about art, books, travel, people, current events, and all the magic in between. His past work in film and media can be found on PeopleAsia Magazine, The Philippine Star, MANILA BULLETIN, and IMDB.
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