"TRAGICOMICAL" by Guerrero Z. Habulan

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8th solo exhibition at G/F ArtistSpace, Ayala Museum Annex, Greenbelt 4, Makati City

The Dream Series of Guerrero Z. Habulan
By Alice G. Guillermo

The up-and-coming artist Guerrero Habulan, scion to one of the staunchest social realists of the Seventies, diverts from the militancy of the earlier generation, and opts for a whimsical tone while he retains a sotto voce critique of the present times, more than four decades after the inception of political art during the period of Marcos and Imelda.

From the downfall of Marcos to the end of the succeeding Cory Aquino administration, social realism or political art in general, branched out into several directions. In the first place the political artists fell into a lull during the Aquino government, uncertain what turn the new government would take in governing the traumatized country. It was this very uncertainty that led to a search for new idioms, new creative languages, even a refocusing of sights.

One of the paths that the young artists took was to ride the wave of pop art and the media in a loosening of the tensions that came before. The comics, which hitherto were used as an educational tool, lost its didactic sting and became soft and fluid, catering to the spirit of humor underlying much of Filipino culture. The bright, spunky characters came back to fill popular papers and magazines, as well as the revitalized tv medium bolstered by influences from Japanese manga with their new marching songs.

Many later artists who took this direction were some social realists themselves, such as Antipas “Biboy” Delotavo, who was able to swing it in some of his shows, such as the one in Singapore in which he used popular comic and pop characters interacting with recognizable classical figures in noble marble. In his case, this particular use also involved seeking the water level of culture, so to speak, or finding the common denominator to these cultural entities, sacred or profane. So it would seem that the present day has leveled off all these entities swallowed up in a vast eclecticism, or secularism, if you will. One of the present artists who engages in a grand mélange of pop and real, leading to a surrealist dream, or perhaps , nightmare is Ronald Ventura who casts his influence far and wide among the young.

In the present work of Guerrero Habulan, artist-come-lately, the human characters or near semblances of such, still provide the bases of his narrative. But, on the other hand, they are virtually overwhelmed by all sorts of media characters, comic figures from way back, such as the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse, classical figures of faux marble making heroic gestures, children’s toys, robots, birds, and animals of various stripes, and even unloosened rubik cubes.

But, to begin with, his human characters have a life of their own. Whether old or young, slender or stout, they bear the mark of the upper petit-bourgeois in their demeanor and dress. Which also makes them several times removed from the ordinary Filipino, except for their black hair. In fact, it is hard to determine their racial or ethnic identity which is far less clear than their class-belonging. The young girl holding a box is delightfully prim and proper in her sure stance. But she lives in her own individual realm, outside common reality. She gazes with keen interest in an indeterminate space outside containing an unfinished structure. It would seem that the real story lies in the box she holds which contains a blond young woman threatened by a bird, while a similar winged creature flies about in the left-hand corner.

It is quite noticeable that one of the main figures of his work is blonde, in the painting “Dreamatic” . Oddly as in a dream, this stout blond woman in a loose red blouse carries a young woman, possibly Filipino, with her head embedded in the tv box. As she watches tv, she lies on the other woman’s lap with a pillow where she is ensconced with a big Mickey Mouse head and a horse-like creature sharing her blanket while a robot toy falls out of her head and another robot meanders on the floor below.

This close conjunction between humans, robots, cartoon characters, and flying birds is the artist’s comment on the meaninglessness of the mental contents of the present generation reduced to such by the media, tv, and robots that only reflect its vapidity, In another important work, a woman, more Caucasian than Filipino-looking, is in a seated position in her heavy winter clothes, her neck surrounded by unloosened rubik cubes—and still another Mickey Mouse head floating in the background. Her large white hand holds a boy, a Filipino, head concealed with white stuff and holding to his chest a striped red- and- white plastic back associated with our common wet markets. His thin rubber slippers reveal his proletarian identity. There is an inescapable ambiguity in this image which projects protectiveness to colonial subjects. It seems that the artist puts into question our relationship with our past colonial guardians, forever dissembling attitudes of benevolence.

January 22, 2014
6:00 PM

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