Arts & Culture

A Haunting Message of Hope Rises from Daniel dela Cruz's "Finding the Light"

The artist hopes to open a discussion about mental health.
IMAGE PAU GUEVARRA
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On the seventh floor of The Link, Makati City, the entrance to a tunnel is illuminated only by the screens of dozens of phones. The phones are masks worn by resin statuettes of everyday people; their displays projecting messages of sadness, regret, and despair.


Further down the tunnel, the theme takes a more drastic form. Metal sculptures of men, women, and children hang their heads, weeping over the cracked screens of their phones and laptops. Shards of glass pierce some of their backs, while others find themselves locked within cages. Their bodies speak of agony and hopelessness. On the floor, near each of them, is a mask.

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Remarkably, “Finding the Light” by artist Daniel dela Cruz is one of the more hopeful exhibits currently on display at Art Fair Philippines. It is also one of the most intensely personal works at the fair.

More: The Ultimate Guide to Art Fair Philippines 2019: Highlights, Experiences, and Insider Tips

The artist takes a short pause to compose himself when asked where the message of his pieces come from, then, with both grief and acceptance in his voice, he answers, “We’ve had a personal loss in our family.”


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Out of respect, I don’t ask him to elaborate on the details. Instead, he shares his purpose for creating “Finding the Light,” “This is how I’m healing. It’s… I’ve seen how much pain it can lead to. The more I’ve studied it and the more I researched it, the more I’ve seen how common it is now among a lot of people to take suicide as an alternative—and it’s not. There needs to be a lot more open discussion for people to realize that.”

“A lot of people suffer in silence,” he adds. “A lot of people suffer without the chance to express themselves.”


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Empathy, the artist believes, is a balm for mental health issues. He sees it as a route to better understanding, and with understanding comes the ability to address and solve these struggles, and so, with his sculptures, dela Cruz aims to forge an emotional connection between people living with mental health problems and those who aren’t—particularly in modern society, where those connections are heavily influenced by social media.


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“One of the things I’ve found, that I’m trying to get my head around, is that most of the conversation and communication between people now is online. It’s digital, so we all have this digital persona. We only show what we think is okay to show. We don’t show all the bad things. More and more, that is becoming the mode of communication than the normal face-to-face talk.”

“The sculptures are all attempts of mine to sort of understand how they feel,” he continues. “If we think about it, we realize that it may seem sad or painful, but a lot of people have to live with it on a daily basis. But if the discussion was open, if they had someone to talk to, if they had someone to provide treatment, then they can actually overcome this.”


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“Art has a very emotional core, and if we can connect with people emotionally, and if we can give the right message, then I think that empathy will come about.”


Midway through the exhibit, viewers are greeted by a sharp contrast: a wall covered in technicolor Post-It notes, each one bearing a message from individuals who have been through the worst of depression and managed to find reprieve. Fair-goers are encouraged to exercise their empathy by leaving behind messages of their own. The act of writing down a few words of support, and then placing it on a wall for thousands to see, is cathartic; and ultimately, it’s the point of dela Cruz’s work: on a larger scale, these notes represent an open discussion about mental health.

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The interplay between the notes, shining brightly in all the rainbow’s hues, and the sculptures entombed in darkness, speaks volumes of the way conversations—even the mere act of reaching out to someone with depression—can help people heal.


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“A lot of people are struggling with them [mental health issues], but it doesn’t mean that there’s no hope,” dela Cruz says. “The whole show is about giving hope; [these are] testimonials from people who’ve gone through the worst. All they are saying is that life is worth living and that you should keep on going.”

Sadly—though perhaps realistically—the only exit from the exhibit is back through the darkness. After the wall of hope, one has to make their way back to the sculptures and the screens. The Post-Its are, in a way, meant to help you keep going, but aren’t a definitive way out of these struggles. Words of support help, but often aren’t enough.


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It’s fitting, then, that at the very exit, where the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is found, is a list of the mental health advocacy groups that helped make “Finding the Light” happen: Anxiety & Depression Support Philippines, Tala Wellness, #MentalHealthPH, Buhay Movement, Silakbo PH, Boxless Society, The Philippine Psychiatric Association, and the Psychological Association of the Philippines. The acknowledgment that support groups and professional help is often necessary in pulling people with mental health issues out of the darkness isn’t something talked about on a day-to-day basis, but it should be.


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After our chat, I share a story of my own with the artist. A look of understanding forms on his face as he listens, and a sense of kinship is immediately formed.

With the walkthrough done, and the interview concluded, all that remains between us is the message that screams out from the pained, sorrowful sculptures in the tunnel behind us: empathy. Always.

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About The Author
Marco Sumayao
Contributing Writer
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