Sunday, March 8, 2009

Art that’s sensitive to social realities

By Karen Lapitan
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 23:57:00 03/08/2009

Filed Under: Arts (general), Social Issues

THERE is no place for artistic euphemism when social unrest is undoubtedly evident.

This is the belief of artist Emmanuel Garibay, 46, whose works essentially reflect social plights and realities.

A social realist, Garibay specifically criticizes the colonial brand of religion while sticking to his principle of showing others the problems that need to be solved.

Simply put, he believes that art can never be just for art’s sake.

His solo exhibition “Reunion,” 20 pieces in oil on canvas, opened Wednesday and runs until March 20 at Sining Makiling Gallery, Dioscoro Umali Hall, University of the Philippines, Los Baños, Laguna.

He explains his works are mere reflections of the issues in his environment. “If you are a sensitive person, you will reflect the realities around you. And that’s exactly what I have been doing.”


Garibay earned a degree in Sociology at UPLB and was an activist during the late 1970s.

He started his social-realist works in college even on his notebooks.

“I was busier then in drawing [on my notebook] than taking down lecture notes,” he recalls.

Garibay became an active member of a UPLB-based art group, Bigkis Sining, known to criticize the Marcos regime.

“Activism in UPLB was in high spirits then. It’s either you were an activist, fascist or a geek,” he says.

Along with the other student activists during that time, he would paint on walls to express his discontent against government policies.

He left UPLB in 1984. Shortly after, he worked in Palawan for a community-development project.

In 1985, he pursued Fine Arts in UP Diliman to give in to his artistic urge.

Garibay says this solo exhibition also serves as a reunion with his college friends, who, like him, were known student activists in UPLB during the ’70s.

“This also serves as a reunion with a place which gave me that high sense of artistic spirit.”

“Reunion” is also the title of one of his major works. Acclaimed by other artists, it is a futuristic reunion of Christ and some religious leaders.

“The setting is 2,000 years from now. Christ is with some religious leaders who are earning a big amount, I think.”

Aside from advocating social issues like human rights and land reform, Garibay is also a critic of the brand of Catholicism that thrives today.

He says “the religion that we know today is colonial in nature. I can not see its practical framework; instead, it tends to prescribe how we should live our lives.”

He earned a masters degree in Divinity at the Union Theological Seminary but remains a critic of “colonial religion,” as shown in his artworks.

“It [religion] is colonial since it came in a colonial package,” he explains.

Plebeian subjects

Instead of choosing subjects that belong to the middle and higher classes, Garibay’s works often showcase the lives and faces of plebeian classes. He veers away from the bourgeois brand of art.

“As an artist, I find it relieving to impart the social problems that we have to deal with. I cannot afford to conceal those problems,” he says.

In “Pakiusap,” a peasant holds a placard; written on it is “Lupa hindi bala” (Land, not bullets).

“You just have to be sensitive enough to come up with these works,” he said.

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