By Alison Kroulek
Sunday, December 23, 2007
After the Spanish “discovered” the Philippines in 1521 and began colonizing the islands, the character of native arts began to change. Once they solidified their hold on the island, the colonial government passed laws placing the arts under the supervision of the friars. Therefore, most of the art created in the Philippines during the Colonial period was created to adorn churches and other centers of worship. The Church commissioned local artists to build churches and to decorate the interiors with bas-relief sculpture, as well to form wood and ivory into santos. The art of this period is a fusion of native influences with the elaborate decorativeness of the Spanish Baroque period. The only exception to this general rule was in the Parian in Manila, a sort of open-air “mall” where craftspeople could be commissioned by anyone with money.
When the Americans took over government of the islands after the Spanish-American War, they brought with them a new source of patronage for Philippine artists as well as a demand for different subject matter. For example, Fabian del Rosa’s paintings gained a great measure of acclaim during this period. Rosa’s work was characterized by realistic subjects and a soft, cool palette of colors. Another popular artist who got his start during the American era was Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto. Amorsolo’s paintings were idealized visions of the sun-drenched Philippine landscape and its inhabitants. Amorsolo was the dean of the University of the Philippines school of fine arts from 1952-1955. His work and his leadership at the college inspired the development of the “Amorsolo School” of painting.
During the 1920’s, artists in the Philippines began to be influenced by modern art trends from Europe and America. For example, Victorio C. Edades was heavily influenced by the work of Marcel Duchamp, who worked in a variety of styles and media but is probably best known for “The Fountain,” the urinal sculpture. Edades was also inspired by the Ash Can School. He used these new techniques in “The Builders,” a response to the idealized vision of working class life characteristic of the Amorsolo School. Instead of happy laborers in sunny fields, Edades’ painting featured “distorted, naked working men, covered in sweat and grime,” showing how difficult their lives actually were.
Edades brought together many other artists with an interest in modern art. The artistic clashes between these modernists and more traditional artists continued until the Japanese invasion.
The Japanese patronized the arts, but they were primarily interested in using them for propaganda purposes. Therefore, most of the art that responds to the horrors of the occupation was produced after the end of World War II.
After the Philippines achieved independence from the US, the art scene picked up speed. During the Marcos dictatorship, Imelda Marcos made a point of financing young, modern artists-patronage became a way of displaying social status. However, when the dictatorship began to crumble and the Marcos’ abuses of power became both evident and intolerable, art in the 1980’s took on a more socio-political tone to address these issues. Art often was installed in the street to connect more directly with the public. The Marcos’ enacted censorship laws to stop artists from creating works that challenged their hold on power-some artists were even imprisoned.
With the fall of the dictatorship, the country went through a rocky period in terms of availability of patronage, but freedom of artistic expression was restored. Today, the Philippine art scene is thriving, with many local artists working in a variety of styles. Galleries are now common features in many of the major shopping malls.