Renz Baluyot’s Exhibit Teaches Us Forgiveness in the Time of War

It runs until August 26 at the UP Vargas Museum.


( In one way or another, we’ve all heard stories and tales of war from our grandparents. While it may be hard to imagine the kind of life that they had, history teaches us to recognize our past and commemorate the struggle of Filipinos who lived during World War II. Artist Renz Baluyot invites us to revisit this period through his latest show, By Sword and Fire, which runs until August 26 at the Vargas Museum in the University of the Philippines–Diliman.



Inspired by a line from Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, Baluyot has gathered an assemblage of his works together with paintings, photographs, and original memorabilia from that era borrowed from the museum’s collection. In this show, the artist strives to understand a part of our nation’s history from a perspective that is much different from how it has been usually told.


His interest in World War II was driven by a significant event that he will never forget. While visiting the observation deck of the Abeno Harukas in Osaka, a man in his ‘60s from Hiroshima bowed before him and asked forgiveness for the destruction caused by the Japanese to the Philippines during the war. This gesture humbled the artist as he felt confused wondering if he should deserve the apology, coming from a generation that had not even experienced the war.


Returning to Manila, Baluyot decided that he should understand further and examine this period in Philippine history. He has dedicated his art to know more about the relationship between the Japanese and Filipinos through the role of Jorge B. Vargas as ambassador to Japan during that time. He also wants to recognize the countless deaths of innocent individuals from both sides, particularly in the cities of Hiroshima and Manila, which were simultaneously bombed and burned to the ground.

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In By Sword and Fire, the haunting sound of sirens accompany “Smoke,” a hologram installation that portrays the start of the Japanese invasion. In “Zero,” the artist made a reproduction of the left wing of a Kamikaze plane out of Plexiglass and installed a mirror to reflect the other half. Kamikaze planes were used by Japanese suicide bombers to attack naval vessels of the Allied Forces during World War II.



"In Retrospection 1 and 2"


In another gallery, “In Retrospection 1 and 2” features reproductions of Fernando Amorsolo’s war paintings made on Japanese blackboards that he bought from a hardware in Osaka. Initially, Baluyot was unaware of the blackboard’s use and was later told by a Japanese friend that they were actually used to display project timelines in modern construction. The paintings are lined up, as if a prelude, to showcase an elegant coat used by the late Jorge B. Vargas displayed at the end of the hall.



"Unfold 1 and 2"


By Sword and Fire also showcases several actual and reproduced Japanese propaganda materials encouraging Filipinos to help the Japanese promote the closed-door policy of Asia, a continent that’s intended to only serve Asians. “Unfold I and II” shows a collection of vintage postcards with sketches of paper cranes—a reminder of a Japanese legend made popular by the story of Sadako Sasaki and her one thousand cranes. The number of postcards also roughly represents the months of the Japanese invasion, while the manner in which they were folded and unfolded symbolizes the unfolding of the events following the occupation.


In the main hall of the exhibit, perhaps to show the irony of conflict and luxury during the war, are replicas of Malacañang dinner invitations and menus placed beside a group of paintings depicting the period. This includes Nena Saguil’s “A Sunken Japanese Ship at the Manila Bay” from 1945.



"Frames of Reference"


Frames of Reference,” a transparent cabinet that displays replicas of U.S. Army and Japanese uniforms beside the clothes of a Filipino guerilla, towers in the middle of the hall. This is Baluyot’s way of showing us that there are multiple ways of viewing history: Contexts vary, and with the availability of information these days, we are tasked to understand history and carry the responsibility of only gathering the truth. The uniforms were covered in rust, a technique that the artist has continuously employed with his works as a testament to the permanent decay caused by different forms of destruction to the society.



"Hiroshima I"



"Hiroshima II"


"Hiroshima III"


The series “Hiroshima I, II, and III” are paintings inspired by Baluyot’s visit in Hiroshima, particularly the A-Bomb Dome. The artist also wants to show the damages the war did to the Japanese. While the entire show sits on a premise of depicting portrayal of the devastation caused by the war to the Philippines, our invaders were also left with permanent damages and carnage. Perhaps, a critique to say that we don’t win wars, we just survive them.



"Post-War Guerilla Skirmishes"


Tidily placed in a rack is “Post-War Guerilla Skirmishes,” where Baluyot reproduced documents belonging to a distant relative proving his status as a war veteran who fought alongside the Americans in World War II. The process involving the recognition of war veterans is long and could take decades as the United States Government requires tons of paperwork, some of which are impossible to accomplish given the state of government agencies after the war. The artist’s own grandfather was a military reserve whose own recognition came late, receiving it only after his death.



Reflecting on this and his encounter with the man from Hiroshima, Baluyot hopes that in presenting a fragment of our history using contemporary context, we may recognize and identify our past and the struggle of those who had lived before us and those that offered their lives to allow us to enjoy the freedom that we have today. He wishes to learn from the Japanese who remembers and recognizes mistakes, not to glorify them but to serve as a reminder that there is nobility in remorse and in asking for forgiveness while never allowing the horrible past to be relived in the future.


By Sword and Fire runs until August 26 at 3/F Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Quezon City. For more information, visit UP Vargas Museum's Facebook page.


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