When the world was segregated into essentials and nonessentials at the peak of the pandemic, the arts was relegated to the latter—to much protest and repudiation.
Theaters and museums at the time were shuttered indefinitely. Shows were suspended or, worse, scrapped. Artists and performers lost their gigs and income. But the truth of art being a necessity did not stay shrouded too long, as humans did what humans do: They created.
Which is precisely the reason The Manila’Bang Show dared to break into the art scene in the middle of the pandemic last year, and still continued with the newly established tradition this year, with the number of participating galleries swelling from just Galerie Roberto, with the help of a handful of its sister galleries, to 25.
“The art scene did not stop,” said project manager PJ Labad on opening day, explaining that while there were no physical activities—galleries turned virtual during the lockdowns—support from artists and collectors continued.
Labad said that unlike in other countries where art fairs are held almost every month, the Philippines only has two prominent art expos: ManilART and Art Fair Philippines. “Our vision is to contribute to the art fair ecosystem. It’s a way of connecting. We’d like to see the art scene as a community instead of competition because, at the end of the day, artists, galleries and collectors alike make one big community.”
This year, The Manila’Bang Show—a nod to Big Bang sa Alabang, a popular amusement park in the ‘80s—showcased works from more than 300 artists spread across 2,500 square meters at Festival Mall’s Civic Drive in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, bringing contemporary art to the average mallgoer.
Alongside the thought-provoking visual treat of the exhibits were free afternoon talks from professionals and practitioners on various topics about responsible art collecting, including art handling, collection management, authentication of works, art toys, and even art in the digital sphere and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Art for all
“The arts has always been stereotyped as being for the elite thus it created a certain divide,” said Marichu Tellano, deputy executive director of the National Commission of Culture and the Arts. “That is why we have been bringing our activities and programs to public spaces like malls, parks and even the streets so that people appreciate that the arts is not only for a few but it’s actually a part of our daily endeavors. Activities like Manila’Bang really help us in this direction.”
For this, Muntinlupa Mayor Rozzano Rufino Biazon was grateful to Filinvest, “which has been a very gracious partner of the local government.”
“The average Joe on the street wouldn’t normally go inside art galleries, thinking it’s expensive,” Biazon said. “But with (the exhibit being) in a mall, it gives an opportunity for the average person to appreciate the artworks and help develop critical thinking just by looking at these art.”
The mall itself is filled with beautiful displays, lights and products, but crossing the threshold into the art space in the L-shaped upper ground hallway transported mallgoers to a world where beauty transcends physicality.
Beneath the prettiness of spontaneous realism artist Celeste Lecaroz’s “Eyes of Argus” series, for example, lies a cautionary tale: Argus Panoptes was slain for his watchfulness, after which his eyes were transferred to the tail of Hera’s favorite bird, the peacock. It challenges the viewer to think about what it means to constantly see and be seen, especially in this age of social media.
“Your private life being out there because of social media, it’s the first time we’re going through something like that as a human race.” Lecaroz said. “So we have to think about it: Do we really like it? Is it going to improve us, improve our humanity? Are we going to develop into better human beings or are we corrupting ourselves, both as viewers and as subjects?”
Meatspace Web3 gallery manager and artist Jori’s own piece “Doc, I’m Bored” exists beyond the physical world (aka meatspace, which is the opposite of cyberspace or metaverse). Her take on the “Bored Ape” wave that somewhat gave a face to the concept of NFTs in 2021 can be animated by viewing through the Artivive app.
Artist-run Meatspace was one of the newer galleries at The Manila’Bang Show, having just opened their Sta. Mesa, Manila, address in August. It is also the only one that featured digital art.
Jori said that people tend to look for something physical to hold, which is what digital assets lack. “But digital assets are already among us, even without our knowledge. For example, you’re recording my audio. That is digital. Our money in GCash or online banking, you can’t just touch that. That’s already considered digital asset.”
She said Manila’Bang provided an opportunity for them to collaborate with other artists and other galleries, and to showcase their artworks to many people. “This doesn’t always happen. When you hold an exhibit, it’s just in a single gallery.”
Furthermore, digital artists are not commonly exhibited. “It’s their chance to shine,” she said.
Angel Clarin, manager of another newcomer Rojo Galerie, agreed that the art fair was a big help to art and other industries affected by the pandemic.
According to Tellano, what Manila’Bang is trying to do is provide space and platform to different artists and the different forms of visual arts, allowing people to appreciate the value of the arts.
“We can now recognize that art is not only an expense but a contributor. If we only recognize the economic value and contribution of our artists in the economy, we’ll be able to move forward to recover,” Tellano said, adding how the arts had been resilient during the pandemic and helping people cope with the impacts of the global health situation.
That Manila’Bang sprouted and flourished during such critical conditions is a testament to humanity’s persistence. Lecaroz asserts that it means “we’re trying to raise art whatever time it is. You cannot really stop art from coming out. We’re trying to still make a mark after a human crisis, which means we’re gonna win as a human race.” INQ