This exhibit uses Marcos and Rizal's heads to make you think

Stirring the Ashes runs until September 17.


( One piece out of Leslie de Chavez’ exhibit at the Ateneo Art Gallery looks deadly. Entitled “Palingenesis,” it is a whip made up of a large handle and lengthy steel chains. At the end of each one are ghostly white cement heads of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. If only the dictator's spirit lost its power to haunt us, but his presence is growing ever more concrete. Meanwhile, a bust of Jose Rizal rests sideways inside crisscrossing black pieces of wood. It makes you wonder if this is how the national hero fell over during his last minutes at Bagumbayan.








These are just some of the artist’s thought-provoking art installations. The rest of the pieces in his exhibit, Stirring the Ashes, at the Ateneo Art Gallery similarly convey socio-political issues, history, and current events. The art installations are made with a variety of materials, such as bullets, galvanized iron sheets, keychains, fabric, carabao horns, among others. 


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The 2014 Ateneo Art Award winner reveals that his artistic process began with collecting objects. Even though he didn't know what he would do with them, he'd just add them to his pile, unafraid to let them gather dust in his studio. Years will pass, then an idea will hit him, and a piece of art will be born in a matter of months. The Marcos heads came from a mold his sibling created three years ago and since then he's been experimenting with several versions of them. He placed one head drowning in a sack of bullets, another on a shovel that had an engraving of the words "U.S. Tempered.” He plans to make a video of himself dragging the head until its entire face is erased. As to what made him want to do another Marcos piece, he said that it was a reaction to the near win of the dictator's son, Sen. Bongbong Marcos in the last elections. The artist said that it was "alarming" that this desire came from the people and that it was as if we need a whipping to remember those who were tortured and killed during Martial Law. 




“Anggulo” is the title of the Rizal piece, which De Chavez shares also took a long time to make. He would pass by a huge mold of Rizal's head at a sculpture fabricator every day for a year and a half, and he always found the image intriguing. When the opportunity for the Ateneo exhibit came to him, he finally approached them and had the head made in fiberglass.



He deliberately placed the Rizal head sideways instead of upright, as it would appear on a statue. He feels that monuments have become meaningless and uninspiring, but that maybe if we looked at Rizal at a different angle, we can realize new things about heroism. Two elements of the artwork also convey society's evolving idea of heroism: The wooden pieces that surround the head actually mimic the bones of a construction site, the skeletal beginnings of a structure that can last for years; another is a mirror with a golden frame, placed underneath Rizal’s figure and emblazoned with the words "reporma." "Hanggang ngayon hinahanap pa rin natin ito,” he said. "Walang katapusan ang paghahanap.”




The Marcos and the Rizal pieces seem to be strategically positioned, but de Chavez says that this was not his initial intention. When he was arranging the pieces, he saw an interesting connection between the two. He said that when placed in the direction of the Rizal piece, the Marcos scourge seems to be threatening Rizal. More than that, the dictator's presence can even serve as an "insult" to the national hero.  


Stirring the Ashes runs until September 17. Leslie de Chavez is also going to have an artspeak session with Fr. Jason Dy on August 18, 4 p.m. at the Ateneo Art Gallery. The Ateneo Art Gallery is at 2/L Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. For more information, log on to Ateneo Art Gallery’s website, Facebook page, and Instagram.


Photos courtesy of Ateneo Art Gallery

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