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Arts Culture Altro Mondo: Nasser Zulueta And Tom Russ Hold A Joint Exhibit Till 14 March

Altro Mondo: Nasser Zulueta And Tom Russ Hold A Joint Exhibit Till 14 March

Altro Mondo: Nasser Zulueta And Tom Russ Hold A Joint Exhibit Till 14 March
By Franz Sorilla IV
By Franz Sorilla IV
March 10, 2021
Tapping into the deepest memories of their lives, Nasser Zulueta and Tom Russ mount an exhibition that showcases their turning points, influences, and transformations as artists

Available for viewing until 14 March, Nasser Zulueta and Tom Russ' joint exhibition at the Altro Mondo Creative Space entitled is "Transformatika" and showcases pieces that give us a glimpse into their artistic lives. Both studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), the dormitory roommates have spent a lot of time together locked down due to travel restrictions.

"We decided to be true to ourselves and to our art," Russ shared. "We wanted to give something different to the audience since most of the current shows are about the pandemic. And because last year we had the chance to pause and reflect, we decided to show our transformation as individuals and as artists.

It led to a meaningful introspection of their artistic lives: Zulueta being exposed to the arts community since he was young and been mounting exhibitions since 2009, and Russ channelling his inner creativity into the visual arts just recently. In their joint exhibition, Zulueta reveals some turning points in his life that ushered his growth as an artist while Russ takes us to the influences of his colourful journey that started in his hometown in Mindanao.

Given that we are still in the middle of the pandemic, "Transformatika" continues Altro Mondo's hybrid exhibitions that started last year. Besides being available to walk-in guests and private appointments, the exhibition is also accessible via Kunstmatrix online platform. The artists both agree that having a virtual exhibition truly helps them in sharing their craft but the experience is indeed very different.

"It cannot really capture the beauty and soul of our works especially most of them are three-dimensional and we used different medium and materials," said Russ. "You must see them in person to fully appreciate them".

[For this interview, I visited the exhibition virtually which had a different arrangement of pieces compared to the actual one in Altro Mondo]

Read also: The State Of The Philippine Art Scene During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Nasser Zulueta
Nasser Zulueta

How did your passion for the arts come about?

NASSER ZULUETA: According to my parents, even as a child I already showed love for drawing using crayons. They realized my gift when they saw the artworks I made in preschool. My father used to paint, and I would always watch. Later, he taught me the basics.

Name two artists who inspire you and tell us what you love about their work

NZ: Locally, Sir Romulo "Molong" Galicano is on top of the list of artists who inspired me. His mastery of the art is the product of both learning from prominent mentors and years of research. I am proud that he became my mentor for a time. Chuck Close is one of the foreign artists I admire. Despite his disability, he is able to bring his artistic style to the next level by making a monumental and hyper-realistic painting. He is truly an inspiration.

How would you define your style and how did you come about it?

NZ: Basically, my works are expression and reaction to my experiences as an artist and as a human being. But honestly, I don’t like to limit my art to a particular style or movement.

What does "art" mean to you?

NZ: Art to me is an interpretation of reality. One may not directly experience a particular reality, but through the artist’s eyes, one can relate to it or even moved by it.

Tom Russ
"Hungry Works"
 

How did your passion for the arts come about?

TOM RUSS: The world of visual arts is very new to me. I just started last year during the pandemic. I needed to channel my anxieties, stress, and frustrations. I am not a trained [visual] artist as my background is performing. Theatre arts was my undergrad course and I've taught communication and media courses at the Mindanao State University from 2011 to 2018. I am now finishing my master’s degree in film at UPD.

When I was young, I loved to draw and sketch. But it stopped after a very traumatic experience during an art class. I was humiliated in class because I couldn’t do a real-life drawing of a cat and an eagle. After that, I loathed drawing. However, my love for the arts never stopped and it diverted to performing. From high school to college, I became a member of cultural dance troupes.

How would you define your style and how did you come about it?

TR: I don’t even know what to call it. I would just know what they are called through Nasser and from other art enthusiasts. My artworks are about my advocacy and social commentaries. I’m from Mindanao and have lived in many parts of it and have met different people. My meaningful encounters especially with the indigenous peoples are mostly the subjects of my work. During and after my college life, I was an activist and had done developmental works.

What does "art" mean to you?

TR: A very powerful medium that one can use to advance any causes and advocacies. Art should be used not only limited to express oneself but also to respond and to reflect the times.

Tom Russ' Works

"Waiting Still"
"Kanak Ha Banuwa"
"No Country For Teduray"
 

These three, "No Country for Teduray", "Waiting Still", "Kanak Ha Banuwa", look like shields to me but looking again, they also seem like flags. Tell us more about these pieces and why the choice of colours? What do they symbolise or represent?

TR: The 3D wall-bound sculptural pieces are my exposition of the plight of the three different ethnic groups in Mindanao.

“Waiting Still” is my decry for the long-overdue rebuilding of Marawi City. I deconstructed the sarimanok, a Meranaw cultural symbol, into geometric shape letters baring the city’s name and its vibrant colours.

The “Kanak Ha Banuwa” piece is an ode to my hometown, Bukidnon. I deconstructed the headdress design of the Higaonons into uneven slopes representing the mountainous terrain of the province. I also combined patterns usually seen in necklaces, bracelets, and anklets of the Lumads. This is my outcry on the constant land grabbing, harassment, and killings of Lumads in Bukidnon.

The third piece “No Country for Teduray” is dedicated to the hundreds of Teduray-Lambangian families in South Upi, Maguindanao who were recently displaced from their ancestral land due to armed conflict. Added to that is their struggle for inclusion in the policymaking of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The pattern used is one of the designs of their weaving tradition, monom. The dirty and rusty colour symbolises neglect and destitution.

Read also: Weaving The Threads Of Filipino Heritage

The use of mirror glass is a representation of bodies of water—lake, river, waterfalls, and seas, that are an essential part of the lives of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao. The irregular shapes when viewed from the top are house roofs. They symbolise displacement. The 3D Wall-bound sculptural style reimagines cultures in pop and contemporary way but still keeping their identities as peoples.

"Phantom Window"
"Veins in the Sky"
 

Gloomy and bleak yet the subject itself [tree] is a symbol of life and growth. Looking at the "Veins In The Sky" does not only give hope but also the rush of life. How did the concept for this come about?

TR: Back in 2019, I questioned my life choices and had many doubts. The acacia trees inside UPD campus became my solace. I would lie down under their shades and look up to the sky searching for answers. I asked many questions and they showed me what I needed to see. Like human beings, these trees can freely reach for the sky yet must remain grounded to survive. And then I was reminded of the song "Roots Before Branches". The lyrics, "To know who I am, Before I know Who I wanna be", capture it all.

The Branches and twigs of the acacia trees crawl like veins in the sky. Captivated by their enigma, I instinctively took snapshots not knowing what to make of them afterwards. But here they are, hanging on the gallery wall inside one of the prestigious galleries in the country.

"Banog"
"Banog"
"A Thousand Shedding"
"A Thousand Shedding"

Who is the Lumad boy "Banog"? Why is he pensive? With "A Thousand Shedding" beside that piece, I could feel tension, force, as if Banog would like to run and shout. Tell us more about this pairing.

TR: "Banog" (hawk) is a self-portrait. It’s a painting version of my photograph while dancing “Binanog”, a mimetic dance of the Lumads in Bukidnon. This photo was taken during a performance in a cultural exchange program in Japan. Like the banog bird, I wanted to spread my wings and fly freely to the sky.

Nasser Zulueta's Works

"A Treasure Map"
"Route 1620"
 

"Route 1620" and "A Treasure Map" have similarities in their central figures

NZ: These two works are my personal approach to autobiographical map with hidden narratives and symbolic elements. At my age, seeing my journey in a different vantage point is liberating, and at the same time, grounding. Liberating because I’ve overcome many obstacles, and grounding because I get to look back and be thankful to all the people who helped me along the way.

Are those stones and wood below the canvas of the "Labyrinth"?

NZ: Yes! This installation art is made of steel pins, nylon wires and stones on wood.

It is very easy to get lost in the labyrinth of our own thoughts. And there are forces that weigh me down while running away from the ghosts of the past. Tormented, I desperately wanted to get out. But I only have two options; sink or levitate. Only I can decide.

In this work, it is my intention to transform heavy into light and making it bearable to anyone who sees and endures the same scar.

"Labyrinth"
"Labyrinth"
"Mambabatok"
"Mambabatok"

My favourite among your works is "Mambabatok". Mainly because I've had the privilege of getting a tattoo from Apo Whang Od. You portrayed her in a very melancholic manner. Why is that? As most of us are aware of her jolly nature even for her age.

NZ: Thanks! I wish to be tattooed by her, even just her signature. Maybe when this pandemic is over [laughs].

When you see that painting in person, it will not give you a melancholic feeling. I just wanted to immortalise Apo Whang-Od because of her significance and her contribution to our culture.

Using pieced wood strips as the ground, I painted each square painstakingly as one puts the puzzle pieces together. Each square is unique but altogether create one big picture.

I like how the "Third Hand" and "Manlalakbay" were placed on the wall. I totally see the concept. But tell me more about the printing process and the gap in years (about four years). Was there any significant event in your life that triggered you to do "Manlalakbay"?

NZ: All my works in "Transformatika" exhibit are very personal, especially these two pen and ink drawings. I made the "Mother's Third Hand" in 2015. This summarised my painful childhood memories.

"My Mother's Third Hand"
"My Mother's Third Hand"
"Manlalakbay"
"Manlalakbay"

NZ: My work "Manlalakbay" was made four years after. It shows the difficult journey I went through after running way from home at fifteen. These worn-out shoes are the testament of how I persevered despite the pains and failures on the road.

In the actual exhibit, "My Mother’s Third Hand", "Manlalakbay", and "Route 1620" are placed side by side. It’s the narrative of my life—the reason I left home, what I went through, and where I am now.

"Awakening"
"Artist's Book"
"Stillness"
"Shroud"
 

Commenting that the "Awakening" piece moves my heart is just for the short of words. But truly, it's a magnificent work!

NZ: Thank you! Appreciate it!

"Stillness" and "Shroud" send me the chills! Usually, I find melancholic, to the point of depressing, the way artists interpret the crisis we've been having since 2020. But these two, it's horrifyingly beautiful (I don't know why those two contrasting adjectives are perfect to describe these pieces for me).

NZ: My work "Stillness" is a depiction of how I cope with the stress and the surrounding noises. By combining fine lines and scribbling technique, I was able to create an impression that many can relate to. More often in life, we find ourselves in-between highs and lows. But despite being in a precautious position, one should remain still to breathe and to contemplate before taking any further steps.

What's the story behind "The Artist's Book"?

NZ: Basically, this is my version of a diary. This is dedicated to those people who I personally met and talked to along the way. I treasure the time of every person I met.

Side by Side

"Vigil" by Nasser Zulueta
"Kabus" by Tom Russ
 

What's the meaning behind placing "Vigil" and "Kabus" side by side? I think there is more to the names of the pieces, am I correct?

TR: The following artworks reflect our predicaments during the pandemic. These are very personal yet very political at the same time.

NZ: "Vigil" is a piece I made during the pandemic. It's a social commentary on what was happening at the time when our voices are silenced, and our rights are curtailed. By deconstructing and reconstructing the image, I was able to create a puzzle-like art and each square was painted meticulously. Like our status quo, this piece is quite baffling, but once you pay attention and be more vigilant, the real picture will reveal itself.

TR: "Kabus" (poor) is made from parts of a dilapidated house near our dormitory. I assembled them to resemble makeshift shanties of the urban poor. "Hungry Works", on the other hand, is made of palm sheath. Both represent the struggles and hardships of the poor during the pandemic.


The "Transformatika" exhibition of Nasser Zulueta and Tom Russ is available for viewing at the Altro Mondo Creative Space until 14 March. You may also visit this site for the virtual exhibition experience.

Tags

Arts & Culture Artist In Focus Contemporary Artists Altro Mondo Contemporary Art Printmaking Painting

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