Into the Sea: Manila Met’s Seascapes: Tranquility and Agitation

Catch the exhibit until June 23.


( Along with Mapping the Philippine Seas, an exhibition of maps and charts of the Philippine archipelago from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila gathered works from 27 artists for Seascapes: Tranquility and Agitation. This exhibit presents a binary perspective of the sea and how it's connected to its inhabitants and the territories surrounding it, along with its formed identities. In this show, we see all things about the sea in its various formsfrom calm to rage and vice versa.






In Elias Laxa’s 1955 piece “Mga Mamumulot ng Kabibe,” the ordinary is depicted with images of rural folk picking seashells while the endless sea hovers in the horizon. The sight is peaceful and unwavering, away from all the troubles of the world. For the most part, it allows us to believe that the sea and the people living around it can coexist without the worries of exploitation or natural tragedies.


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Meanwhile, Noell El Farol’s “Voyager II” presents us with a dream-like portrayal of a ship carved in glass. The fragility of the material that the artist used substantiates the unpredictability of sailing—such as recorded voyages in history that explored unrecognized islands or those that sank deep underwater. El Farol’s work consists of icons that are floating around the ship: A sarimanok-like figure, a key, and what might be the Eye of Providence.




Veejay Villafranca’s “Mga Manggagawa sa Prinsa” stunningly captures a mountain resting in the background while a worker walks along the path of a dam. The image conveys a dramatic scenery where the grandiosity of the mountain and the stillness of the sea is intercepted with the diminutive commonalities of our daily life.





Artist Toym Imao examines political context in his installation piece, “Santa Sierra Madre.” He assembles what appears to be a carroza (a float that usually appears in processions) which contains different elements that symbolize past and current territorial disputes and political conflicts that occur within the borders of the sea. There is a figure of a woman surrounded by eight boats—a symbolism that might remind you of the eight rays of the sun in the Philippine flag. The bottom of the carroza is filled with dozens of maneki-neko (a popular Japanese figurine in the shape of a cat with its paw moving, which usually serves as a talisman or a lucky charm), perhaps representing “the guardians” of our motherland. The figurines move hauntingly while raising universal signs for “stop or halt.”




Environmental awareness and the threat of overfishing is explored in Manny Montelibano’s “Run Fish Run” (2011). The title of Montelibano’s work, most likely lifted from Tom Tykwer’s 1998 film Run Lola Run, says everything about this piece. The artist arranged multi-channel videos, fish nets, and fish hooks as if he's inviting the viewer to see things from the point of view of the prey. The video is fast-paced and builds up to a sense of anxiety, which is a successful attempt of the artist to allow us to scrutinize fishing by understanding how it feels to be hunted and trapped in our own habitat.




One of the most powerful pieces from the show is Cian Dayrit’s “Mapang Nabuo na Ngayo'y Kapuluan ng Pilipinas” where the artist presents a satirical version of the 1734 Murillo Velarde Map embroidered in fabric. The Velarde map, most notably known for Francisco Suarez’s illustration of the island’s “inhabitants” is mirrored in Dayrit’s work where the panels contain nuances in our history and colonial past.



In one panel, an image attributed to the Treaty of Paris is embroidered with the amount equivalent to the payment of the United States of America to Spain in exchange for the latter’s ceding of power in several colonial territories including the Philippines. In this piece, Dayrit comments on our nation’s history and identity and how much of it has been forced on us by our colonizers. It is also noticeable that the artist embroidered landmarks of Filipino uprisings around the archipelago and the seas around it. The artist, then, credits himself in the piece, the same way Filipino cartographers and illustrators were credited in colonial maps, i.e. as “Indio Tagalo.”




At the end of the gallery is Martha Atienza’s “Gilubong ang Akon Pusod sa Dagat (My Navel is Buried in the Sea).” Together with her brother and journalist Jake Atienza, they initiated an experimental project in their hometown of Madridejos, Cebu to reach out and understand the social realities of coastal communities and how their lives are transformed by their affinity to the sea.





Part of that project is a piece which contains a three-channel video installation featuring rural fishermen, whose lives are examined alongside other men from the same fishing town who decided to work on international cargo ships as seafarers. The video provides clues and insights into the similarities and the differences in these people’s lives. “Gilubong ang Akon Pusod sa Dagat” is straightforward but takes its time. It tests the viewer’s patience (like the rest of Atienza’s works) by presenting all sides and versions of the story. The synchronicity of the scenes is well-defined to balance out the spectrum: one where you can no longer distinguish which life is better or worse.


Seascapes: Tranquility and Agitation is extended until June 23 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Manila. For more information, visit MET's website.


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