10 Filipino Artists Showcased Masterpieces in Paris at Palais de Tokyo’s Summer Exhibition
Finished in 1937, Palais de Tokyo calls itself an anti-museum that seeks to challenge concepts of what art can be in Paris, a city known for its canonical works of fine art. For City Prince/sses, Palais de Tokyo was transformed from a sprawling space of exposed beams and raw aged material into an unpredictable, eclectic, dizzying labyrinth mapped by the scenographer, Olivier Goethals. No geographical markers distinguished one area from another. Artists of various disciplines and forms of expression—from tattoo artists to musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and visual artists—were asked to picture themselves as a prince or princess ruling a city free of constraint, fear, or taboo.
More than a year in the making, the curators Hugo Vitrani and Fabien Danesi chose the cities based on their underground art spaces. From the Philippine contingent came a wide range of art forms that drew raves from those who attended the exhibition. There was fashion, performance art, animation, mural, paintings, and film. Some of the Filipino artists would meet each other there for the first time. Hanging high at the entrance of the Palais, David Griggs, an Australian living in the Philippines, set the tone of the exhibition with Manila Strange #1 and Manila Strange #2. Two banners painted with acrylic on canvas sheet showed zombies, bunnies, and men and women with balloons on a checkered background as if characters caught inside a psychedelic video game. The artist known as Doktor Karayom distinguished for his use of mercury red acrylic paint and playful morbid illustrations meanwhile showed Isla Inip. A giant-sized Jose Rizal lay in the middle of the installation as if pinned to the ground by an army of small red figurines. In a film composed of 294 drawings, Dex Fernandez showed black and white animated illustrations of a Garaparty as it mutated and changed shape from one image to another.
On the other hand, Philippine pop iconography deconstructed on eight textile banners formed the work of Dina Gadia in All States No States. The fashion design duo collectively known as Ha.Mü (Abraham Guardian and Mamuro Oki ) presented their second collection that used experimental and craft techniques for genderless, otherworldly clothing. Extra-terrestrials also seemed to exist in Leeroy New’s installation called Aliens of Manila: Balete Colony as twisted and stacked recycled plastic tubes, colanders and ties gave way to sculptural forms. No space was wasted, and even staircases became vital spaces for artistic experimentation as seen in Pow Martinez’s murals that envisioned a grotesque city populated by ghouls at the clutches of war.
One of the Filipinos who was fortunate to see all this was Ara Valenzuela d’Aboville who was there with immediate family to support her daughter-in-law, the artist, Maria Jeona Zoleta. She said it was an exciting opening night hosted by the French Ministry of Culture with more than a thousand people in attendance. “It filled me with so much pride and pleasure to see the works of our homegrown Filipino artists stand out among the numerous works of artists from the other “megacities” in the world, “ she said. D’Aboville had met the curators of the show when they visited the Philippines to talk to the artists. Shared connections despite geography and the thrill of being among admired peers added to the energy of the show. It would be there that Maria Jeona Zoleta would finally meet Tehran-based Reza and Mameli Shafahi after being mutual admirers of each other’s work through social media. This affinity led to the artists being exhibited side by side. Zoleta’s work joyfully named, Possessed Projxxx Presents: Happy Hours!! Smelly Flowers!!!! Marshmallow CottonCandy Microsluts Aqua-Cheeze(Curlzzz) Sweetcyclone SmileySpaghetti //BabyBabybabybrixx///paradise forlyfe/extralyf//afterlife!!! [fromthefirstdayoftherestofmylife& Urs2] Channeling Cheap Creamycologne Spellcasting by Kreepeemummyklownkraze691989 »» Or dirty I.Scream, caught the eye of French media with its provocative reimagining of a neon-glazed children’s birthday party in Manila. Zoleta, influenced by punk rock and DIY aesthetic, displayed a mixed media installation of soft sculptures, graffiti t-shirts, balloons, painted unframed canvases, and unexpected scenes of grown-up depravity and nudity. Maybe it is to remind us that early experiences of childhood often reverberate to become themes that haunt adulthood. Of the exhibition experience, Zoleta said the best part was meeting all the artists and curators. “It felt like we all shared the same energy... just being able to work alongside them every day was very grounding,” she said adding that, “they really make artists dreams come true.” Meeting like-minded artists also led to subsequent collaborations. “I had a show in Mexico City in August because I met Biquini Wax and they invited me to do this cyber cafe show,” shared Zoleta.
Rounding the rest of the Filipinos included in the exhibition are Timmy Harn and Urban Decay Planning’s John Jayvee del Rosario and Maine Magno. Timmy Harn showed his work Reptilia in Suburbi and Cyber D3vAil X Ahas, films that play with the cult monster movie model with humour while setting it in Philippine suburbia. Harn is part of Tito & Tita, an artist collective exploring the experimental possibilities of film. Urban Decay Planning meanwhile displayed their interests in performance art, video, and sound with #Destroy 3000 Years of Culture. In it, del Rosario sings karaoke amid microphone feedback. Magno supplements the performance with embroideries that chart the world history of performance. These are just some of the artistic visions that were allowed to flourish during the exhibition, alongside works by the rest of the artists who were given the same freedom to imagine an unrestrained city.
The City Prince/sses succeeded by shifting focus long centred on the West by allowing a polyphony of voices to be heard. Resistance and change need to happen and these often begin with art.
This article was originally published in Philippine Tatler Traveller Volume 16