Arts & Culture

This Exhibit Shows Filipinos as a People Are Complex, Conflicted, Connected

New York-based Filipino designer Federico de Vera brings his unfiltered vision of the Philippines to a personally curated exhibit at the Ayala Museum.
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Vestige VII, Gregory Halili, 2016. Oil on mother pearl, wood base. From Gladys Chung Collection. Laid on paño, 19th century. Piña. From Rina Ortiz Collection.

To say that renowned designer, jeweler, and collector Federico de Vera has an eye for aesthetics would be a betrayal of language; words often fail to describe exactly how he sees beauty. Known for the eclectic, even ethereal, nature of the spaces he designs, de Vera’s work is better experienced than expressed.

The designer himself would agree. “How do you explain taste?,” he says, when asked about his definition of beauty. The matter, after all, is purely subjective—though some are far better than others at having their perceptions resonate through art. That is the essence of de Vera’s work as an exhibit designer: to let objects speak for his taste, to let the beauty of a space tell its own story.

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Paper Flowers, 2010. Recycled magazine pages. From Cesar and Fe Rodriguez Collection.

Over the past year, de Vera scoured through the Philippines’ finest museums and private collections, gathering a total of 300 art objects to create Curated by Federico de Vera, an exclusive exhibit at the Ayala Museum that aims to display his vision of beauty as reflected in Philippine culture. The massive undertaking highlights the identity of the Filipino, its diversity and tenacity, through its rich material and cultural heritage, all through the lens of its eponymous curator.


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Daang Ligid Krus, Alfredo Esquillo, 1996. Oil and sawdust on canvas. From Loui and Liza Bate Collection.

Curated is de Vera’s definition of Filipino beauty, unfiltered and uncompromised. “If I’m curating something, it’s gotta be one hundred percent mine,” he says. “I wouldn’t be showing it if I wouldn’t have it in my house.” And, as it is in his home and at his Manhattan stores, what he shows is a symphony of diverse voices, with hundreds of pieces meticulously harmonized to create an atmosphere of mystique, of reflection, and of craving.

A portrait of a man defiantly staring at the observer with his bypass scar on full display is juxtaposed with a painting of an aristocratic woman from the 1960s, her mystifying grace exuding through Imeldific style. Next to the woman is a black-and-white photograph of Whang-Od, whose tattoos contrast the former’s polish with equal, though wildly different, beauty. All at once, one grasps a sense of history in a single portion of one of the exhibit’s many walls, telling a story of colonialism and perseverance that wouldn’t have been possible had the pieces been witnessed separately.


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Alamat ni Lam-Ang, Rodel Tapaya, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. From Dr. Joven Cuanang Collection.

De Vera weaves his vision across three floors of the Ayala Museum, each stop sharing different, yet interconnected tales. The ground floor is his own portrait of the Filipino, with pieces that depict both cultural and socioeconomic diversity, coexisting then as it does now, unflinching in its inequality but breathtaking in the richness of its layers. The statement is simple: that we as a people are complex, conflicted, and connected.


Christ Taken Down from the Cross, 19th century. Polychrome wood. From Dr. Joven Cuanang Collection.

The second floor of the exhibition is called the Treasury. In it, we encounter the Philippines’ material riches in the form of objects both found and crafted, a multiplicity of textures brought together to create a seamless tableau. Christianity’s influence on Philippine art is strongly expressed, as seen in the ivory heads of saints, crucifixes, and religious vestments on display.


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Traditional bulul. Scarf by Pio Abad.

The third floor sees Philippine art and design in abstraction, as the lines between ethnic and contemporary design are blurred to create questions and meaning. The section is designed to provoke people’s opinions on art. On whether certain objects merit the label in the first place. “If I could open someone’s eyes to something, that would be good” de Vera says.

The exhibit, as a whole, immerses the viewer in de Vera’s vision, giving one a glimpse of what beauty must be in his eyes. Though nearly impossible to express his taste in words, Curated by Federico de Vera manages let one understand it, as well as feel it. For anyone who’s been touched by beauty of any form, that’s all that is needed.


Federico de Vera

Curated by Federico de Vera at the Ayala Museum opens today and is on view until January 28, 2018.

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Marco Sumayao
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