Arts & Culture

Rizal-Inspired 'Spectre' Represents Philippines at Venice Biennale

Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo are respected artists with a large following here and abroad.
IMAGE Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale Coordinating Committee
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“The Spectre of Comparison,” the curatorial proposal of Joselina Cruz, is representing the Philippines at the 57th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia. It was chosen after an exhaustive selection process by the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale Coordinating Committee, composed of Dr. Eugene Tan, director of the National Gallery Singapore; Metropolitan Museum of Manila president Florentina P. Colayco; pioneering installation artist Luis E. Yee Jr.; former NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon Jr.; and Senator Loren Legarda.


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Manuel Ocampo's Immigrant's Daughter

Together with other international selections, “Spectre of Comparison” is on exhibit at the former military dockyard in Venice, known as the Arsenale. Current NCAA Chairman Virgilio Almario, National Artist for Literature, leads the contingent as Philippine Pavilion commissioner. The intriguing title for the country’s showcase comes from Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. The line “El demonio de las comparaciones,” translated by the late literary scholar Benedict Anderson as “the spectre of comparisons,” refers to Crisostomo Ibarra’s futile attempts to avoid comparing his beloved, though imperfect, Manila with Europe, the perceived idyll.

Interpreting this theme in their art are Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo, both respected artists with a large following here and abroad. Maestro was born in the Philippines in 1957 and now resides in Canada, where she continues her explorations in installation, sound, and video art. Ocampo, who divides his time between Spain, Belgium, and Manila, enjoys acclaim for his unsettling pieces rife with religious, political, and cultural themes.

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Lani Maestro's No Pain Like This Body

Aesthetically, the works of Maestro and Ocampo share little in common; what unites them is their shared worldview, as Filipinos who have experienced being part of the diaspora. “The exhibition looks at their practices as emblematic of the experience of Rizal’s spectre of comparisons, the juxtaposition of their works, the manifestation of political and social commentary from afar, as they saw the events of the Philippines and their adopted countries ‘through an inverted telescope’,” says Cruz.

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Beyond the Philippine Pavilion, other Filipino artists are also taking part in the Biennale. The festival’s central show, entitled “Viva Arte Viva,” is organized by Christine Macel and features artists from all over the world, among them London-based David Medalla, and young artists Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez. Through November 26; Venice, Italy; labiennale.org.

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Pierre A. Calasanz
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