Arts & Culture

Seabound: Open Waters and Conversations

Celebrating a union of contrasts

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Yavuz Gallery on the second floor of Gillman Barracks’ renowned Block 9 structure echoed a symphony of languages from local and foreign guests. They shared universal ooh-and-aah’s at the latest assortment of paintings on display for opening night. A myriad of colours and techniques hid in every corner as new elements stood out in the white expanse.

Kickstarting the 13th Art Trek installation held annually by the Embassy of the Philippines in Singapore is Seabound, a group art exhibition featuring young Filipino talents. Strung together by multimedia artist and curator Ruel Caasi, the collective known as The Working Animals Art Projects celebrates a union of contrasts.

Twofold meaning

Since the beginning of their respective creative journeys, the artists of The Working Animals Art Projects have progressed into multiple directions as they further explore and evolve in their crafts. They are rooted, however, to the same homeland that inspires much of their individual work.

Caasi brilliantly themes the exhibit Seabound for the word’s multiple meanings. On one hand it is defined as the geographic reference of being locked-in by a body of water, and on the other, it connotes a journey towards the sea.

The latter interpretation welcomes the group’s recent engagement overseas; Seabound being its second foreign exhibition. The former, in Caasi’s words, “foregrounds the locality that informs and shapes their artistic practices, and intimates the world to which their diverse creative impulses respond to.”

Context is key

John Marin’s Mula sa Kabundukan Hanggang sa Kaibuturan depicts the process of ideas being passed on and relayed; the title translates to “From the Mountains Until the Very Depths” in English. And while Aiya Balingit’s vibrant paintings of children may seem youthful at first glance, “underneath these [images and] children’s stories are my own philosophies and beliefs about life.” She describes her work as an organic link between visual arts and literature.

Despite each piece having been executed separately, many of the paintings similarly convey social commentary. Ronson Culibrina’s Northeast Monsoon and Johanna Helmuth’s How We Met are characterised by notably Filipino surroundings. Striking imagery reflect economy, foreign trade, healthcare, transport and natural calamities experienced in parts of the developing nation. Jayvee David’s Docu Everything You Do captures the wide phenomenon of youth recording mundane daily activities with social media as witness.  

Pow Marin’s Can You Live In A Box peers away from the Philippines and towards Hong Kong’s tumultuous state. He portrays a coffin-sized home, the living conditions citizens there are subjected to because of soaring real estate prices. Lawrence Canto journeys inward in an attempt to understand the human condition. Sweep Dirt Under the Rug “pertains to how people deal with the things we don’t want to deal with like emotional baggage and relationships. Things like that eventually stand out and morph into monsters that eat us up eventually. Chew Bones for My Good Dog pertains to our very cravings, desires, and how desperately we then chase after them.”

Full circle home

By the shared efforts of gallery owners, curators and benefactors, Art Trek has proudly boosted better understanding in Singapore and in the region of Filipino art and culture. Beyond visiting one of Asia’s art capitals as creatives to showcase new work and fresh ideas, the young artists of The Working Animals Art Projects have become cultural ambassadors on a global stage.

“Filipino culture is composed of Hispanic, Malay and Chinese traces, making us very diverse,” explains Canto. “Despite the diversity, artists are still able to create a uniquely Filipino identity that stands out visually through our own ideas and experiences.”

After informing gallery viewers of some realities they might be able to resonate with from any origin and circumstance, Seabound and Art Trek come full circle, having started with shared roots, then gone out into the world to raise cultural awareness of an existence and an identity they know and wish to share. “These paintings put Filipinos on the map,” says Canto. “It’s a statement that we exist,” adds Pow Marin, as he makes a call for more Filipino representation in the international art community.

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