Beyond Remembering

Review of Nilikhang Kasaysayan
Visual Art Exhibit
Sept. 21 – Nov. 28, 2008
Bantayog Memorial Center
Quezon Avenue cor. EDSA, Quezon City

The martial law that Ferdinand Edralin Marcos imposed in 1972 left a tragic imprint, snippets of terror and malevolent signs. In the visual art exhibit Nilikhang Kasaysayan, the violence of the tumultuous years under the Marcos dictatorship is rekindled, claiming a familiar place in the repressive undercurrent of the present regime.


For the visual art exhibit Nilikhang Kasaysayan (Created History), artist-curator Edgar Talusan Fernandez enjoined his fellow artists to mount the show on the 36th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. More than an effort at commemorating its declaration and the atrocious events that transpired after, the exhibit is a bitter commentary on the continued infliction of violence against the people who, in their impoverished condition, struggle for societal change.

Though the administrations after Marcos’ have tried to veil their rule with illusions of peace and the presence of a “democratic space”, the present generation is familiar with the pain, agony and terror the children experienced under martial law. It is precisely because similar faces hound the scene and the Palace stands with the same, old façade. The exhibit does not only evoke sympathy from viewers; it impresses on them the need for discernment and a critical re-examination of present times.

The visual works included in the exhibit are along the “social realist” genre. Alice Guillermo, foremost art critic in the country, describes social realism as a movement in art that spouses the ideology of the marginalized. It fearlessly depicts social realities and reflects the aspirations of the people for genuine change. Perusing the rich visual narrative of each work of art, one would be transported back to the decade of terror that typified Marcos’ rule. At the same time, one would also be conveyed into a stream of realization that history has repeated itself.

The paintings done with oil and acrylic framed years ago are placed on the contemporary wall imposing its taunting significance in the present-day state of affairs. The paintings done only during recent years reflect the unchanging times and the unrealized aspirations of the past generation.


Because the participating artists lived under the repressive circumstances of the martial law years and in one way or another experienced the iron fist of the Marcos regime, the images eloquently depicted in their works are vivid accounts of history, coming from the very core of the political tumult.

Ana Fer’s “Batas Militar” (Martial Law, 1984, rubbercut) illustrates the hardships experienced by the people under the rule of Marcos. Depicted alongside the dictator are his wife, Imelda and cronies on his right and his soldiers on his left. His tie, which bears the symbol of the American flag, represents his government’s puppetry to the US. Meanwhile, inverted above Marcos are images of the people suffering from this situation. The print presents the cruel interplay of power not only during the Marcos administration, but in almost all administrations in post-colonial Philippines.

Another work portraying the terror of martial law years is Pablo Baens Santos’ “Panangis ni Ina” (Mother’s Cries, 1984, oil on canvas). The sight of the figures lying lifeless on the ground and those in bondage while undergoing torture brings the image of the mother to tears. Yet, the work presents not a woman who has given in to a helpless situation, but a woman who has her despair translated into rage. The rage that can be seen from the look in her eyes is a rage that would bring her up from her knees to fight for justice for her brood. Baens Santos’ choice of medium and the heavy strokes employed add intensity to the visual narrative of the work.

Jose Tence Ruiz’s depiction of a hanged animal carcass, meanwhile, signifies the grimness of the rampant human rights violations during the martial law years. The concentration of colors set against a dark background completes the dour image of fright lurking around the unmoving and lifeless image.


While a social realist work of art brings before the viewers social realities in its most honest depiction, it can also reflect the people’s aspiration for genuine change. As a consequence of oppression and political slavery, the people’s constant longing and struggle for freedom is itself an ever-present social reality.

Fernandez’ “Lakbay ng Panahon” (Journey Through the Times, 1985, acrylic on canvas) explains why “the history of Filipino people is a history of class struggle.” It shows the resistance of Filipino people from the Spanish colonial period to the war of aggression waged in the country by the Americans with crucial roles played by local ruling class. The presence of the image of Andres Bonifacio, as well as of indigenous peoples, imply the primary role historically played by the oppressed classes in the re-shaping of history. The red cloth that seems to enfold the people connotes the radicalism of the Filipino people’s struggle throughout its long history.

Another work depicting resistance is Baens Santos’ “Boycott” (1981, oil on canvas). “Boycott” continues to be used by students and workers as a protest form. Like most of Baens Santos’ works, this particular piece used the interplay of colors to denote both the darkness of the situation and the longing of the people for change.

Texture of words, “visual poetics”

In the collaborative work of visual artist Antipas Delotavo and poet Jesus Manuel Santiago, text and visuals are infused to create a powerful work of art that screams despite the subdued imagery and resigned subject depicted in the huge canvas. In the four-panel artwork entitled “Eksenang Tahimik” (Quiet Scene, 2008, oil on canvas), the first three parts show tight arms, hands clutching a gun and a finger ready to pull the trigger the moment the delirious taste for killing enters the brain of the assassin. An assassin whose face is not shown points to one direction only: a man with a bowed head seemingly waiting for the bullet to enter the back of his skull.

Scribbled throughout the first three panels are lines of Santiago’s poem. The use of ochre for writing the text creates an impression that the writer scratched through the grim-colored surface. The friction between the surface and the strokes of handwriting creates a spark-like effect that appears to be an effort to peel off the darkness of the “quiet scene”.

On the fourth panel, there is picture of a forest with a dog sniffing across the ground to locate a buried corpse.

Similarly, Brenda Fajardo used text to introduce before the viewer the revolutionary poet Emanuel Lacaba. Entitled “Alay kay Eman” (Dedicated to Eman, 1996, acrylic on paper), the work presents Lacaba not as a hero to be distinguished from others but as a revolutionary who had become one with the masses. Lacaba, who was summarily executed in 1976 in Davao del Norte, was one of the young activists who, during the dictatorship of Marcos, decided to leave the city to organize peasants in the countryside.

Perpetual longing for freedom

Edicio de la Torre’s work “Piglas” (Breaking Free, 2008, acrylic on canvas), features a white dove, the universal symbol of freedom. Around the dove are images of people bathed in red, perhaps implying that freedom, indeed, requires radical change to be brought about by the movement of the people.

Clearly, the works in this visual art exhibit are presented not merely to enable viewers to remember a page in history but to trace the road to freedom through the trail of blood shed during the past struggles of the Filipino people. It reminds viewers that to remember is also to learn from the past. The images speak not only of the perpetual terror but also of the exigent and urgent need to end it. (

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