Saturday, January 25, 2014

Storytelling thrives in places where time and space can be stretched, often defying logic and even notions of truth. In the Philippines, the art of storytelling has developed through the wealth of tales culled from the collective memories of the archipelago’s myriad ethno-linguistic groups kept alive by oral history.

As Dean Spruill Fansler, a scholar in Philippine folklore writes: “…A glance at the map and at the history of the islands reveals the archipelago as a veritable ocean center of the streams of story.”

Rodel Tapaya, one of the leading Filipino visual artists of his generation, is first and foremost a storyteller, whose art practice mines folklore, myths and legends. In their customary form, these stories do not resonate from a singular voice and origin. Rather, their very nature stresses that they be continuously hewn and transformed by a community piecing narratives together - both as storyteller and audience - ensuring that the stories inhabit the collective consciousness, and are passed on to succeeding generations. In his works, Tapaya creates not only apparitions that quickly fade, but also scenes that can be surveyed at length. From the written translations of these narratives sourced from various texts, he fashions vivid renditions that give form to what we ourselves imagine.

Bato-balani, the Ateneo Art Gallery’s 2014 exhibition season opener, features Tapaya - a four-time Ateneo Art Awards shortlisted artist and winner of the Asia-Pacific Signature Art Prize - in his first one-man exhibition at the country’s premier modern and contemporary art museum. The title, which refers to an ether source, a life force that can be channeled into the physical world through contact with certain objects or uncanny experiences, marries the artist's penchant for mystery and magic with the enigma of separate albeit related belief systems anchored on a tangible vessel, the anting-anting - their forms alluded to by the engraved tin sheets that the artist uses to frame his canvases. The intricate carvings on the anting-anting show animistic and Christian references — a complex amalgam of Bathalismo, a belief in Nuno or Bathala and other anitos, and the credo of Catholic tradition heralded by Spanish colonization.

Whether it be used as a sacred or profane instrument, the anting-anting signifies a world-order that depends upon harnessing an ineffable power to fulfill one’s innermost desires: as an amulet of invincibility, or as a talisman for renewing life in Tapaya’s mythic universe.

Bato-Balani runs until April 30, 2014.

For more information, please contact Thea Garing, Exhibitions Coordinator at (63 2) 426-6488 or via email at

The Ateneo Art Gallery is located at 2F, Rizal Library Special Collections Bldg., Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines

EDIT: The exhibit has been extended until May 15, 2014.

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