“The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?”
So begins Psalm 27 in the Holy Bible, an unexpected reference in Nisael Agag’s tribute to the gods and goddesses who preceded our Westernized reading of Christianity. Psalm 27 also happens to be the title of one of the works in this series, depicting a figure curled into a fetal position with one arm extended towards the heavens. The image invokes a universal truth of why we choose to worship or why we believe what we believe. As the psalm reads, our beliefs protect us, serving as “a stronghold,” as armor against the uncertainty of a short and often cruel existence.
This was undoubtedly true for those who congregated around these now forgotten gods and goddesses whose images were cast by Sael into abstracted and atemporal spaces; seemingly boxed in, the way a santo or a bulul would now be placed upon a pedestal or behind a vitrine. Yet, while there are undeniably religious themes in Sael’s “The Forgotten,” his title reminds us that what we worship is just as ephemeral as the materials upon which their images are rendered. Above all, “The Forgotten” is a reminder – not only a reminder to (in Sael’s words) “reunite with the past”, but a reminder that even spirituality has a history and that its traces are just as integral to what we are today. Icons may just be vessels, but they are in no way voided of meaning.
The fifteen pieces making up this series suggest that kind of substance. Sael makes use of textures and multiple dimensions, inviting viewers to come in closer, to see the work from all sides, and to reflect. Even with their heft and the starkly contrasting colors, Sael’s works possess an aura of calm, their size making them appear as windows into another reality, not unlike the stained glass found in Catholic churches.
Like much of Sael's portfolio, "The Forgotten" celebrates the indigenous without exoticizing it. Rather than make a spectacle of difference or dwell on the “primitive”, Sael depicts the magical in a manner that recognizes its local origins, suggesting an intimacy that reclaims its place in this world. His mixed media objects and paintings, or paintings as objects, consistently imagine that space in which the folkloric intersects with the futuristic. It is in being rendered from humble materials--reclaimed wood or repurposed odds and ends--that we are reminded of what exists (or persists) parallel to that imaginary space, of our own reality. Through what we have been forced to forget, we are reminded that faith and belief will only save us if they are used to make a difference in this world—rather than beyond it.
Nisael P. Agag or Sael graduated from the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts, with a BFA in Painting. That practice has since evolved into works in mixed media that often make use of local crafts and indigenous artifacts. The Forgotten is his second solo exhibition with Hiraya Gallery.