England Hidalgo's paintings explore current events and social ills. Here, an old man jet skis through a flooded city reminiscent of many cities that have suffered under watery devastation.

England Hidalgo’s paintings explore current events and social ills. Here, an old man jet skis through a flooded city reminiscent of many cities that have suffered under watery devastation. The work is particularly relevant in light of the recent flooding in the south of the Philippines. (all photos by the author)

MANILA, Philippines — Shortly before I left Manila, I saw three shows that I wanted to take time to review briefly. My own biases as an artist and arts writer lean toward art that engages in some sense with social issues and society, and I found that so much Philippine art really tackled social issues in an interesting and refreshing way. These shows are definitely worth a visit.

England Hidalgo: Grotesque People and Current Events

A zombie set in ancient Egypt missing an eyeball — a direct reference to reports of protestors in contemporary Egypt being shot in the eye.

Lost Projects, recently featured in the Asia Art Archive’s list of Manila’s artist-run spaces, is hosting new works by resident artist England Hidalgo. The series, In Disgust, examines current events through the lens of low brow comic art. Like the title suggests, Hidalgo uses grotesque imagery to convey current events.

Upon entering the gallery space, we see stacks and stacks of newspapers piled precariously on thin tables. Behind them are paintings and comics. One image features a nude old man jet skiing through flooded terrain — a reference to frequent flooding and infrastructural problems in places like the Philippines — while another depicts a zombie-like figure in ancient Egypt missing an eyeball.

With images of devastation and injustice zipping around the Internet and media every day, it can be easy to become desensitized. Hidalgo’s approach helps us remember the reality behind the images while riffing on the shock and awe effect frequently used by media to illustrate world events.

Jose Tence Ruiz: Finding the Theater in Church and Fashion

Jose Tence Ruiz’s paintings read like gothic industrial, with a touch of baroque.

Ruiz, known as “Bogie” among his friends, is well-respected amongst art world Manileños, and his recent talk at Manila’s TEDxDiliman circulated widely on the Philippine internet.

His work, which critiques and examines the role of theatre in the Catholic Church, is instantly recognizable. I previewed Ruiz’s show, Dessicated Proxy, while in Manila, and this time around, his installation brings his formal interests into a psychedelic direction. Using black lights and orange construction vests, he’s created a human-sized cathedral that can be peered in only from four select windows, thus limiting how we can interact with the piece.

The piece continues Ruiz’s mixing of industrial elements with softer, theatrical material. Also on view are his baroque women, their slim hips and flowing dresses outfitted in mechanical gears and metal parts. Often, when traveling, it’s much easier to see the theater in another culture’s religious rituals and local dress. Ruiz brings that sense of othering to Catholicism and Baroque, two cultural forces that have heavily shaped Philippine art and architecture.

Paul Mondok: Finding the Stories in Manila’s Refuse

A sculpture by Paul Mondok comprised solely of objects found on Manila streets.

Mondok’s fun installation at Republikha seem puzzling at first.  Tires, blocks, even small toys — they feel like haphazard conditions until you look closer and witness a delicate balancing act.

The works themselves are culled together largely from materials found around Manila. The streets of the city, like New York’s subways, plays host to a number of random objects whose stories I’ll never know. Mondok’s installations bring those stories to life one more time.

England Hidalgo’s In Disgust runs until January 22 at LOST Projects in Quezon City, Manila.

Jose Tence Ruiz’s Desiccated Proxy runs until February 28 at Galleria Duemila in Pasay City, Manila.

Paul Mondok’s show appears in Sprout, a four-part curatorial project by plantingrice.com running until February 4 in Republikha Art Gallery in Quezon City, Manila.

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An Xiao

Artist An Xiao (aka An Xiao Mina) photographs, films, installs, performs and tweets and has shown her work in publications and galleries internationally. Find her online at @anxiaostudio...