PHOTOS Rome Jorge
Currently ongoing at second floor of the Philippine National Museum is the Hocus exhibit—26 paintings by Guy Custodio in collaboration historian Saul Hofilena, Jr., as curated by Gemma Cruz-Araneta. The Hocus exhibit will run until October 29, 2017.
The paintings in the exhibit are the artworks which Saul Hofilena, Jr., a lawyer and a historian and Guy Custodio , a conservator of the church’s treasures, made during the period of almost 4 years. In their collaboration, their purpose was to meld in oil, wood and woven cloth out nation’s history. When they are asked to identify who the real artist in these works , they refer to a trinity, Hofilena, Custodio, and that little icon they call the anghel de cuyacuy whose given name is Hocus.
The majority of the paintings deal with the Patronato Real or the Royal Patronage. The Royal Patronage was an arrangement between the Spanish monarchy who accepted from the Holy See the responsibility of maintaining and propagating the Catholic faith. In exchange, the missionaries of the faith defended the acts of the sovereign and impliedly recognized that the Spanish monarch possessed just the title to the colonies.
They ask the viewer of the paintings to look at and to read the paintings like miniature books because that is what they are, vignettes of the country’s history presented in allegory. The Cartas Phillipensis is history disguised as tarot and the paintings are visual records of our country’s past.
An outstanding work is the “Readers of the Lost Words.” This oft photographed work during the exhibit shows the friars of the five religious orders that ruled the country with an iron cross during the Spanish period. Each is holding a devotional written in the dialect where the friar order held sway.
“The Spanish Dirge,” which is painted in ancient wood, shows the end of the Spanish empire in the Islands. Winged angels take away the symbols of the Spanish empire — the Spanish colors, the n which is peculiar to the Spanish language, the Spanish sword, the esfera or orb and a treasure box containing the wealth extracted from the colony. Filipino angels play the dirge with the church of Cuyo as a fitting background.
The exhibit also highlights a painting in old wood of the “Lost Island of San Juan.” The island first appeared in a 1601 map by Fray Herrera, later, it also appeared in several maps. William Dampier wrote a detailed summary of where the island may be found east of Mindanao.
Carlos Quirino, a Philippine National Artist, declared that the island is actually Siargao while Federico Aguilar-Alcuaz, National Artist for Visual Arts, was determined to head an expedition to look for the lost San Juan Island, the Philippine Altantis. What is amazing about the exhibit is that the original book written by William Dampier is also on exhibit together with an 18th century original print showing the inhabitants of the lost island.
The exhibit also shows the Cartas Philippinensis panel. The Cartas Philippinensis is the only playable deck of tarot cards with the Philippine themes.
Another is a painting brilliantly conceived. Its title is the “Philippine Palimpsest.” According to Saul Hofilena, in the days past, in the Middle East and Europe, monastery scribes working in scriptoria occasionally scrape off words written on animal parchment in order to use them again. The reused page is called palimpsest. Sometimes, words previously erased become visible again, revealing past secrets. In the Philippine Palimpsest, the “Dios de salve Maria,” is written over with “Aba Ginoong Maria”, it’s Tagalog equivalent. It’s an overlay written in red, symbolizing the blood of the indio shed in the name of Christianization. The Castillian origin of the prayer is revealed for all of us to see.
This article has been published in the July-August 2017 issue of the magazine.