Buen Calubayan and Iggy Rodriguez

Artists of social conscience

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By Ronalyn M. Umali; Photos by Josa Camille A. Bassig

BEYOND forms, colors, and structures of a painting is an artwork depicting the real face of society.

This has been the mantra of Thomasian artists Raul Ignacio “Iggy” Rodriguez and Buen Calubayan in their artwork. Through their works, they strive to impart social realities that are usually ignored.

“Artists should step up and be involved in what is happening today. I believe that art must be founded on a social cause, and not just create art for art’s sake,” Rodriguez told the Varsitarian.

Both painters were included in the 13 Artists Awards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last July 9. The award is given to 13 emerging artists in the country every three years in honor of the pioneering group of the 13 big names in Philippine art namely Victorio Edades, Galo B. Ocampo, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Diosdado Lorenzo, Vicente Manansala Jr., Hernando R. Ocampo, Cesar T. Legaspi, Demetrio Diego, Bonifacio Cristobal, Jose Pardo, Arsenio Capili, Ricarte Purungganan, and Anita Magsaysay-Ho.

In his exhibit at CCP, Rodriguez made a collaborative installation (a three-dimensional art piece) with social realist group Ugat Lahi titled “Symphony of Destruction.” The installation depicted an orchestra with a big dummy conductor in the middle, portraying a multi-national company. Surrounding it are musical notes riddled with American brand names and laws passed in favor of foreign countries.

Calubayan’s installation art also had its share of limelight with “On Spectacle and Other Awkward Rules on Killing by Means of Natural Selection.” He used a live albino sewer rat kept in a cage to illustrate that Filipinos base their decisions on religious and moral beliefs. He made his exhibit interactive by placing poison and pellets to either kill or feed the rat. Inside, there was a cross on the floor made of black plastic toy rats on top of Pope Benedict XVI’s image.

Painter of social dramas

Rodriguez launched his first solo exhibit last November 10, “Kimi Imik,” depicting his view against the industrial superpowers and the widespread corruption in the country through oil paintings and pen-and-ink illustrating along the social-realist style.

“The exhibit is basically a conglomeration of typical human dramas. The paintings reflect the situation of contemporary Filipinos undermined by various social problems,” Rodriguez said.

A native of Zamboanga City, the 35-year-old former Advertising student from the former College of Architecture and Fine Arts (CAFA) attributes to UST his passion for the arts.

“It’s not entirely the curriculum that molded me as an artist, but my classmates, friends, professors, and the people I met inside the University,” said Rodriguez, who enrolled in UST in 1991.

In his junior year, Rodriguez joined Ugat Lahi, a cultural movement of visual artists fighting for a social cause. The organization started in UST in 1992 until it became a national movement of artists.

This coming-of-age resolve might have opened Rodriguez’s eyes to see the problems of society.He immersed himself to the poor which has inspired most of his artworks.

In 1996, he left UST after finishing his thesis, but did not formally graduate because of unfinished minor requirements. He became a freelance visual and production design artist in the Philippine Educational Theater Association, and later on worked as a project coordinator in the Asian Council for People’s Culture, a non-government organization.

After two years, Rodriguez resigned and became active again in Ugat Lahi. This decision led to a crossroads of sort for him.

“On one hand, I need to work for money, but on the other hand, this cause [painting] is what I deem as right and just. This is my passion,” he said. “It was a good thing proper guidance was given when I was still in UST, because it became the foundation of my artistic career now.”

Nevertheless, Rodriguez stuck it out with Ugat Lahi. He sustains his painting career by joining group galleries and selling his works, aside from receiving financial support from his colleagues.

In 2001, Rodriquez won the grand prize in the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in the AAP Annual Art Competition under the category black and white drawing, and also received an honorable mention in 2003.

‘Artist as rebel’

Calubayan, 29, was included in the “10 Most Exciting Young Artists” in the country by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Lifestyle and Nokia last October 28, dubbing him “artist as rebel.”

This title may have proven to be true when he was separated from work as an instructor at the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD), teaching foundation courses, like drawing and painting. Calubayan said he was penalized for “open display of distorted ideas and atheistic beliefs” in 2007.

Calubayan’s dismissal case is now pending before the Court of Appeals.

Calubayan said he does not harbor any grudge against UST, which honed his skills as an artist. He initially took up Advertising at the former CAFA, but it was not until his third year that he realized his heart belongs to painting.

“It was during this time that I became analytical of what’s happening around me. I wanted painting because I can explore in such way that you can search for your identity and spirituality, unlike in advertising where you create something for a company, for their gain and profit,” he said.

Despite this realization, Calubayan still graduated with a degree in Advertising in 2001 to honor his parents’ wishes. Starting in 2002, he worked as assistant conservator and graphic artist at the UST Museum for six years.

He started teaching at CFAD in 2002. While teaching, he also studied Cultural Heritage Studies at the Graduate School for three years.

Calubayan started joining group galleries and exhibits during his college days. In 2007, he had his first solo exhibit, showing the present human condition and how the world was commoditized.

“If no one will object, if no one will be critical enough to fight, then this system will not end,” he said.

To inspire and enlighten

Above all the recognitions and awards he has received, Rodriguez said he is driven to inspire and motivate everyone to take an active role in changing the society.

“Personally, I’d like to see art in a different level. As a social being, we are all affected by everything. We do not live in a vacuum. We must be active participants of our society and not just merely passive bystanders,” Rodriguez said.

For Calubayan, he is hopeful that his artworks will enlighten people and help them analytical of what is happening in society.

“I don’t wish to influence them to follow what I believe, because then it will just be another ‘religion.’ I just hope people will be more critical with how they think and not just follow what’s given to them,” Calubayan said. Tomasino