Bagahe: Art as Remittance


Agam-Agam by Chris Inton, Oil on Canvas, 2016.
In 1906, fifteen Filipinos from Ilocos Sur were recruited to work as pineapple pickers in Hawaii starting what would be known as the Philippine diaspora purposely migrating around the world today. Either alone or with family in tow--for family, money, pride, or some as simple as fulfilling a dream of being on an airplane--more than 3,000 of our countrymen depart our airports every day, year after year, for more than hundred years now.
Forming part of the amalgam of 10 million Filipinos sprawling worldwide, sparsely positioned Filipinos work in some of the most difficult, obscure and time consuming industries that test their skills and commitment for other people’s progress and welfare. As doctors, physical therapists, nurses, IT professionals, engineers, architects, technicians, teachers and seafarers whatever complicated, dirty, nitty gritty job for the taking, a kababayan is there. 

Fragile by Oliver Menor, Mixed Media on Canvas
Bagahe is our ongoing collective story in an adapted/adopted land. 

Gathering some of the more promising visual artists in Singapore Bagahe is both call and a reply. At a time when newly induced Philippine pride is spreading around the world emanating from sports, beauty pageants, art biennales and that recent premier episode Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Bagahe foretells our unkempt and honed tales from this cosmopolitan city—ironies, maladies, and drudgeries. Singapore as a context affects their artistry can both be conflicting and liberating. To imbibe a sense of artistic urge within the confines of strict and contained art practice.

Sayed Alwi by Dario Bunyi Tibay, Oil on Canvas, 2016

The dilemma of the personal and the social ensues and further entangles intertwining at the top of the heads of Filipinos as it dangles like a sword of Damocles awaiting its fateful fall. Agam agam by Chris Inton affirms this predicament: if I leave there would be trouble, and if I stay it would be double. So come on, let me know. As it was then, it is instinct that one leaves the comfortable habitats for greener pastures. Sacrificing one’s self, the promise of a better future for one’s family cannot be resisted. To buy that home for our parents who restlessly rented all their lives; to purchase that land your family have been tilling in the hopes of not paying its lease for our forebears. To send our children to the best education in the fervent wish that they will have their own business for you to return back home. The rope in the canvas exemplifies our strength and resilience, our bondage and our continuing struggle for survival is highlighted in Fragile by Oliver Menora. He adds: separated from our families and our roots, we are fragile in a foreign country. We are like blank canvases hoping for brighter images for our lives.

Outsider by Jasmin Orosa, Mixed Media on Canvas

Residing temporarily in a foreign abode remains the toughest challenge for an OFW as he feels more than an expatriate. Acculturation must draw first blood. Such is the message of Sayed Alwi by Dario Bunyi Tibay. Comparing the OFWs as earth-bound astronauts, they acclimatize themselves and bring their “environment” to where they are.

Bagahe is what one acquires from one’s current stay. Loaded with real experience, all preconceived notions are met with blank wall or canvas in this instance. Outsider by Jasmin Orosa is such. Meticulously done wherein one's forehead is marked by emotions and sentiments. Her right hand ached by labors. Left hand throbs from deflecting blows. Shoulders ready to carry more loads. Although not all are lucky, some comeback shortly after sudden eclipse of homesickness, others will never use the luggage they brought when they departed their hometown.
Mindscapes by Wilfredo Calderon, Watercolor on Paper

Bagahe could well be that one inimitable luxurious artistic baggage. It is what you bring to your point of destination from your point of origin—culture, perspective and memory. Mindscapes (Memories of My Childhood) by Wilfredo Calderon is about memories from his youth. It depicts his childhood and all the things that he loved and how he used to play with nature as my playground. Most of these artworks took as much time as when he first got in Singapore.

Strawberry Road in My Mind by Noel Rosales best captures everyone’s sentiment. Orchard Road is both a representation of the tension for both affluence and conflict. People don’t realize the void of incomes passing just through them—from employers to their loved ones in Manila. It is a struggle to keep sanity and dignity intact. Before you know it, it’s time to go home.

Strawberry Road in My Mind by Noel Rosales, Acrylic on Canvas

Unlike their obliged regular remittances to their mother country, just once this Bagahe is going back to them. 

Bagahe is ongoing at the De Suantio Gallery at Singapore Management University. School of Economics, 90 Stamford Road, Singapore. Exhibit runs until September 16.

Initiated in 2007 SininGapor Art Collective is composed of writers, graphic designers, and artists from the Lion City. Bagahe is their fifth group exhibition.

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