– Autumn/Winter 2019

Social Realism: The Turns of a Term in the Philippines

Patrick D. Flores

Tags: Patrick D. Flores

To name and annotate a practice is one stage in the discursive struggle of the term ‘social realism’ in the Philippines. Another stage is to index the world that creates it, and to be in the world to change it – through the modern and the socialist, broadly conceived. In reflecting on the political feeling that art can be at once index and intervention, the contemporary condition of the social realist image, alongside its inquiry, inevitably surfaces. This image is distributed: idealised, historicised, radicalised, indigenised, instrumentalised, decolonised, allegorised. In its explication of the way the world materialises, it demystifies the autonomy of art in the gesture of making it truly ‘useful’, that is, responsive to the social and the real (however these terms are intuited). Such is the ethical life of the image in Philippine art that invests in the potency of likeness, iconography and refiguration as much as it struggles with misrecognition. Honed in Catholic and baroque colonialism, the theological question of the image, which is instructive as it anticipates an afterlife, is verisimilarly its political problem, which speculates on the future of the social order. Thus, social realism comes in a relay of alternating terms: partisan, progressive, protest and revolutionary. It plays out across the spectrum of the socialist project and an ‘international’ of the global contemporary. — PDF

Antipas Delotavo, Itak sa Puso ni Mang

  1. The Philippines was the first European and the only US colony in Asia. Spanish colonisation began in the mid-sixteenth century and lasted until 1898, when the US seized control of the country, leading to the Philippine-American War (1899—1913).

  2. Conversation with the author, 25 March 2013.

  3. ‘ReCollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule)’, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 14 July—30 September 2012.

  4. Imelda Marcos, quoted in Ileana Maramag (ed.), The Compassionate Society and Other Selected Speeches of Imelda Romualdez Marcos, Manila: National Media Production Center, 1973, pp.14—15.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Raymundo Albano, ‘Developmental Art of the Philippines’, Philippine Art Supplement, vol.2, no.4, 1981, p.15.

  7. Ferdinand Marcos quoted in I. Maramag, The Compassionate Society, op. cit., p.16.

  8. During the opening, the precocious and ever-ludic David Medalla held a blitzkrieg protest, unfurling a banner within striking distance of the First Lady, and enacted performative gestures both from his seat at the gala and later in front of the fountain outside. In an interview years later, Medalla spoke of the extreme fragmentation of society during Martial Law. See Guy Brett, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla, London: Kala Press, 1995.

  9. Alice G. Guillermo, Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Philippines 1970—1990, Manila: University of the Philippines Press, 2001, p.51. As a gauge of the agitated atmosphere at the time, Guillermo mentions that when US President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the country in 1967, demonstrators carried confrontational posters with queries such as: ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’

  10. Ibid., p.248.

  11. Ibid., p.63.

  12. Ibid., pp.243—44.

  13. For excerpts of these manifestos and a more in-depth discussion of this subject, see Patrick D. Flores, ‘First Person Plural: The Manifestos of the 1970s in Southeast Asia’, in Hans Belting et al. (ed.), Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012, pp.224—71.

  14. See Jean and John Comaroff, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

  15. See A.G. Guillermo, Social Realism in the Philippines, Manila: Asphodel, 1987, p.1.

  16. Ibid., p.43.

  17. Ibid., p.50.

  18. See R.A. Skelton (ed.), Magellan's Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation by Antonio Pigafetta (1524, trans. R. A. Skelton), vol. 1, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969; and Julius Bautista, Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Niño de Cebu, Manila: Ateneo de Manila University, 2010.

  19. A.G. Guillermo, Social Realism in the Philippines, op. cit., p.165.

  20. Some of the works in this series were shown in Benedicto Cabrera's exhibition ‘BenCab New Works’, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila (27 November—14 December 1973).

  21. Ibid., p.50.

  22. The exhibition was on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from 3 July until 12 October 2003. See Lawrence Rinder, ‘The American Effect’, in The American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States 1990—2003 (exh. cat.), New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2003, pp.15—47.

  23. George W. Bush, ‘Remarks to a Joint Session of the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Philippines’, 18 October 2013, available at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=63501 (last accessed on 10 June 2013).

  24. Mark Twain, quoted in L. Rinder, ‘The American Effect’, op. cit., p.30. See also Jim Zwick (ed.), Mark Twain’s Weapons of Satire: Anti-imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1992.

  25. Jon Whitman, Allegory: The Dynamics of an Ancient and Medieval Technique, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987, p.13.

  26. Ibid.

  27. Angus Fletcher, Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1964, p.7.

  28. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1925, trans. John Osborne), London: Verso, 1998, p.175.

  29. Graciano López Jaena, quoted in Zero In: Private Art, Public Lives (exh. cat.), Manila: The Lopez Memorial Museum, The Ayala Museum and Ateneo Art Gallery, 2002, p.78.

  30. John Clark, ‘Allegories of the National’, paper presented at the colloquium ‘Histories of Art History in South East Asia’, University of the Philippines, Manila, 21—23 March 2013.

  31. Gordon Teskey, ‘Colonial Allegories in Paris: The Ideology of Primitive Art’, in Brenda Machosky (ed.), Thinking Allegory Otherwise, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010, p.127.

  32. Ibid., p.125.