Tyranny of Hindsight
September 23, 2015 - October 30, 2015
Salvaged Memories, Salvaged Lives
At the amazing young age of 28 (at the time of the artwork’s execution) Dilla had obviously not been born during the Martial law regime. Dilla researched assiduously and distilled the wealth of materials into a few selected but significant elements.
The central figure, of course, is the Dictator himself, here depicted appropriately with iron hands, depicted in his characteristically imperious gesture which we Filipinos knew at the time that his word was law. Symbolizing the greed of the Dictator and his obsession with gold are the gold bars, tumbling down from a weighing scale.
On the upper right hand part of the painting are the framed portraits of the so-called “Rolex 12,” thus tagged so, having been beneficiaries of the status symbol brand of watch. What completes the visual narrative are the Filipino desaparecidos (Spanish for forced disappearance, adapted from Latin America’s victims of dictatorship). These are our unfortunate countrymen who were the tortured victims of human rights abuses, physically vanished from the face of the earth. Martial Law justified extrajudicial killings, summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention of political activists, outspoken journalists and dissident social figures. Dilla depicted some of them with heads shrouded in purple, the symbolic penitential color of Lent.
The Philippine tricolor itself has now been denigrated to a serviceable presidential tablecloth, bedraggled and chained as a virtual prisoner of the Dictator, before which he had once sworn his allegiance.
The title of the 8 feet x 18.5 feet mural Salvaged Memories, Salvaged Lives features the word “salvaged”, a curious word on which the Urban Dictionary has remarked: In the Philippines, “to salvage” means “to kill” that person, which is the opposite meaning of the word, which is “to save.” What can one say?
Only in the Philippines.
Dilla’s second mural, #WHATNOW, measuring 8feet by 17feet, was conceived with a raging and overwhelming emotional temper, a vision whirling with conflicts between institutions despite the dictum of the separation of Church and State. Alas, it is a disturbing portrait of a country in a perpetual state of upheaval and turmoil, pathetically left behind by other Asian countries, while governed by grandstanding leaders heedless of the people’s plight.
Sporting the noses of Pinocchio, ever lengthening with their shameless lies, are the supposedly honorable politicians afflicted with chronic corruption while men in dapper black suits, smartly hidden behind stylish sunglasses, and all bereft of social conscience, are representations of the powers of Business, Commerce and Industry, generating vast profits that hardly trickle down to the poorest of the poor, who in their unassuageable hunger, have now assumed the visages of starving dogs roaming the streets of the metropolis.
Like a centripetal force, the various figural elements are swept towards the vortex of the mural, the Throne of Power, where the Occupant has securely planted himself, as evidenced by the “family tree” sprouting from his wooden Pinocchio nose. No doubt, this is Dilla’s indictment of the political dynasties prevalent in our country which the politicians themselves are adamant not to be uprooted. In the guise of assuring the people of the continuity of their services, the people are not fooled. In fact, are they not actually helping to serve themselves? Thus the appropriate mascot of the crocodile mask worn by a politician depicted in the pretentious pose of a monument, which the populace have roped in order to topple down.
In his 1935 inaugural address as president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Manuel Luis Quezon delivered a statement that, now in retrospect, sounds portentously prophetic: “I would prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos, than a country run like heaven by the Americans.”
Has the wish finally come true?