Jerson Samson's World is a Cramped, Busy World

Jerson Samson's "Ikatlong Mundo" (Third World) is a jam-packed warts-and-all snapshot of urban Filipino families living, loving, playing and making-do in cramped conditions. Samson combines a "Where is Waldo?" obsessiveness with wry observations of Pinoy household scenes where religious piety and family togetherness are cherished and the concept of personal space is virtually nonexistent. This work is being exhibited in ultra-cool Singapore and it makes me wonder how anyone who grew up in a tightly-regulated and efficiently-run nation will view this termite hill vision of third-world reality where things seem to be on the brink of chaos and disorder, but stop short of becoming shambolic and dysfunctional.

While my curiosity for how Singaporeans will interpret this work rages, I have no doubt that for the casual Pinoy art enthusiast, this work makes for fun viewing. I always look for three things from pictures like this:
1. The giant wooden rosary hanging on the wall.
2. The giant wooden spoon-and-fork hanging on the wall.
3. The wall decor which shows miniature bladed weapons from around the Philippines.

When I find any of those three telltale signs, then I know that the artist is really Filipino!

Samson shows a keen anthropologist's eye for Pinoy street-level dynamics and household bric-a-brac. There is no hint of moral judgment from the artist, just a lucid recitation of observable facts on canvas.

Maybe for some, this is a worrying picture of rampant overpopulation; of humans gobbling up space and resources for themselves ("How can you live like that?"). Are these mere creatures mired in the quotidian? Content to feed and copulate and raise their young, with no higher aspirations whatsoever? People whittling their time on petty matters? Are these just bodies occupying space? A nation of ant-like beings who have collectively achieved nothing of importance to benefit the rest of the world?

Or is this a picture of contentment? A lively presentation of people who may not enjoy the best luxuries that modern life has to offer, but derive comfort and joy from being around loved ones. Maybe this image shows that what matters most is being around people and pets they care about no matter how difficult the living conditions may be? ("You Filipinos are so cheerful!"). Humble folk with simple needs who are tolerant and civil to each other given difficult circumstances? Maybe that is enough achievement?

"Ikatlong Mundo" will be on show at Utterly Art Singapore until September 7.

Now, can you find the giant wooden fork on the wall?

Samson's work reminded me of a post-Olympics report which seeked to answer the question: Given the size of its human population, why isn't India winning more Olympic gold medals? It makes for an interesting read, and insights from India's ongoing struggle to get more Olympic golds may also help us find ways to improve our own Olympic campaigns.

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