– Autumn/Winter 2013

Social Realism: The Turns of a Term in the Philippines

Patrick D. Flores

Tags: Patrick D. Flores

Somewhere in the Philippines, in the 1970s, the Coca-Cola logo bleeds across the image and becomes the proscenium arch of a theatre of everyday life. In the watercolour Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan (Dagger in Old Juan’s Heart, 1978), Antipas Delotavo depicts a man, slightly stooped, passing by an overwhelmingly large billboard advertising the archetypal product of the United States. The artist seizes on a moment when the multinational and the proletariat inhabited common, contentious ground in the Philippines. The serif of the letter ‘C’ appears to nearly touch the fatigued figure, as if ready to cut into his flesh, to shed blood that is both always-already flowing and foretelling fate. Delotavo explains that he was drawn to the Coke icon because for him it incarnated the ubiquity of the US in the Third World; its internecine interventions in Southeast Asia; and its support for the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the Philippines, which hosted two of the US’s largest foreign military bases. Also crucial here is advertising as a vehicle of imperialism, in guaranteeing the US’s hegemonic presence in the economy and culture of the Philippines even after it gained independence in 1946, following nearly fifty years of US rule and three centuries of Spanish occupation.1 The Coke logo is concomitantly a cipher of capitalism and, in Delotavo’s own words, of ‘cultural enslavement’.2

In 2012, this work was shown in ‘ReCollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule)’, an exhibition that commemorated the imposition of Martial Law by Marcos in 1972,3 one of a series of measures aimed at quelling the communist tide rising within

  1. The Philippines was the first European and the only US colony in Asia. Spanish colonisation began in the mid-sixteenth century and lasted until 1898, when the US seized control of the country, leading to the Philippine-American War (1899—1913).

  2. Conversation with the author, 25 March 2013.

  3. ‘ReCollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule)’, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 14 July—30 September 2012.

  4. Imelda Marcos, quoted in Ileana Maramag (ed.), The Compassionate Society and Other Selected Speeches of Imelda Romualdez Marcos, Manila: National Media Production Center, 1973, pp.14—15.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Raymundo Albano, ‘Developmental Art of the Philippines’, Philippine Art Supplement, vol.2, no.4, 1981, p.15.

  7. Ferdinand Marcos quoted in I. Maramag, The Compassionate Society, op. cit., p.16.

  8. During the opening, the precocious and ever-ludic David Medalla held a blitzkrieg protest, unfurling a banner within striking distance of the First Lady, and enacted performative gestures both from his seat at the gala and later in front of the fountain outside. In an interview years later, Medalla spoke of the extreme fragmentation of society during Martial Law. See Guy Brett, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla, London: Kala Press, 1995.

  9. Alice G. Guillermo, Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Philippines 1970—1990, Manila: University of the Philippines Press, 2001, p.51. As a gauge of the agitated atmosphere at the time, Guillermo mentions that when US President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the country in 1967, demonstrators carried confrontational posters with queries such as: ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’

  10. Ibid., p.248.

  11. Ibid., p.63.

  12. Ibid., pp.243—44.

  13. For excerpts of these manifestos and a more in-depth discussion of this subject, see Patrick D. Flores, ‘First Person Plural: The Manifestos of the 1970s in Southeast Asia’, in Hans Belting et al. (ed.), Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012, pp.224—71.

  14. See Jean and John Comaroff, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

  15. See A.G. Guillermo, Social Realism in the Philippines, Manila: Asphodel, 1987, p.1.

  16. Ibid., p.43.

  17. Ibid., p.50.

  18. See R.A. Skelton (ed.), Magellan's Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation by Antonio Pigafetta (1524, trans. R. A. Skelton), vol. 1, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969; and Julius Bautista, Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Niño de Cebu, Manila: Ateneo de Manila University, 2010.

  19. A.G. Guillermo, Social Realism in the Philippines, op. cit., p.165.

  20. Some of the works in this series were shown in Benedicto Cabrera's exhibition ‘BenCab New Works’, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila (27 November—14 December 1973).

  21. Ibid., p.50.

  22. The exhibition was on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from 3 July until 12 October 2003. See Lawrence Rinder, ‘The American Effect’, in The American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States 1990—2003 (exh. cat.), New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2003, pp.15—47.

  23. George W. Bush, ‘Remarks to a Joint Session of the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Philippines’, 18 October 2013, available at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=63501 (last accessed on 10 June 2013).

  24. Mark Twain, quoted in L. Rinder, ‘The American Effect’, op. cit., p.30. See also Jim Zwick (ed.), Mark Twain’s Weapons of Satire: Anti-imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1992.

  25. Jon Whitman, Allegory: The Dynamics of an Ancient and Medieval Technique, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987, p.13.

  26. Ibid.

  27. Angus Fletcher, Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1964, p.7.

  28. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1925, trans. John Osborne), London: Verso, 1998, p.175.

  29. Graciano López Jaena, quoted in Zero In: Private Art, Public Lives (exh. cat.), Manila: The Lopez Memorial Museum, The Ayala Museum and Ateneo Art Gallery, 2002, p.78.

  30. John Clark, ‘Allegories of the National’, paper presented at the colloquium ‘Histories of Art History in South East Asia’, University of the Philippines, Manila, 21—23 March 2013.

  31. Gordon Teskey, ‘Colonial Allegories in Paris: The Ideology of Primitive Art’, in Brenda Machosky (ed.), Thinking Allegory Otherwise, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010, p.127.

  32. Ibid., p.125.