Visual Narrative of Contemporary Filipino Mythologies
by: Maria Portia Olenka C. Placino
Engulfed yet segregated—Rodel Tapaya elicits into visual imagery the contemporary Filipino mythologies amidst the post-colonial re-interpretation of folklore in his exhibit “Bulaklak ng Dila.” Reminiscent of platilya for Filipino saints, heavily detailed frames of silver-coated tin sheet on wood emphasize six portraits of everyday characters deified by contemporary Filipinos. Tapaya re-tells various Filipino mythologies through the Vargas Museum space as they succumb to and deteriorate through imperialism and colonization evolving towards the deities positioned on a high pedestal of the museum landing—the rich, the popular and the powerful.
Kabunyan, the most powerful deity represented by Rodel Tapaya is replaced by everyday deities. The gods and godessses defy their pantheonic sources and filter into the ordinary icons, more prominent and resounding in the Filipino consciousness. The worship of an all-powerful god is reconstructed with the worship of power, beauty and money. The magnificent is replaced with the familiar. The images of the ordinary are elevated and separated from the rest, yet still surrounded by the powerful mystical imagery of Filipino dieties. The system of valuation is questioned as the ordinary converses with the mystical, as the everyday encounter the rare, and as the earthly elevates into the heavenly.
The pilgrimage towards the contemporary deities begins with the persisting stigma of the american uncle sam. Balat Kalabaw portrays a white-skinned imperialist wearing a coat and a top hat on the foreground shadowing the Filipino farmers. The americans are the balat kalabaw, the thick-skinned imperialist powers, hiding their repressive rule underneath their white skin. Unlike other colonial powers, Filipinos idolize and deify the white-skinned americans and their clothes, focusing on the mythology of american liberation and forgetting the true victims and heroes of american imperialism.
Luha ng Buwaya continues the narrative of the contemporary mythologies. The fake tears of an imeldific image foregrounds the portrait, once again shadowing the true suffering of the Filipinos. The visual critique carries on—the journey confronts the viewer with the cruelty of deifying the tears of a false martyr placed back into power, her background suggesting brilliance. She is portrayed as a woman regaining the spotlight through her tears albeit fake tears. The threat underneath the simulated sorrow is her true power and brilliance, once again gaining prominence, once again gaining notice. An image poised to earn sympathy and power in her woeful manipulation. Imelda lives on, deified and frozen in imagery.
A veiled face in ordinary clothes then confounds the visual narrative. Kakaning Itik depicts the stereotypical Filipino worker in the usual work clothes for a day in the sun. There are neither tears nor conflict, just the background of a farm land and the echo of the ordinariness, such as the balut in the Filipino life. This is perhaps the true deserving underground deity, though alone amidst the true mythological powers within the Philippine framework. This image confuses as it seems out of place amongst its surroundings. Yet, this visuality deserves the utmost respect, the deification given to other undeserving entities. This presence is a visual reminder of what reality is, and at the same time what should be the true focus of artistic discourse. The plight of the ordinary Filipino should be taken to account, yet it remains silent. This quiet reminder provides a resounding echo to the heart and mind of the Filipino.
Nagmumurang Kamatis creates a shift, pulling the narrative from ordinariness of Filipino life towards the colors of vanity. The redness of the lips and the revealing pink slip contrast with the dull background, screaming the contemporary mythology of youth and beauty. The vain imagery of madame auring ang vicki belo bring forth empowerment through deification in the preservation of youth and defiance of old age—the strength of women reduced to their eternal frozen state. Beauty in the Filipino culture has become an everlasting struggle to look young. Fashion, make-up and bright vanity has become the recurring theme in popular culture. Deified are the young looking elderly. The goal has become to save up enough money to become a vicki belo poster girl. This critique of the culture of contemporary vanity screams at the deteriorating valuation of Filipino beauty.
The endearing hero of the contemporary Filipinos penetrates the narrative as he is portrayed through the image of the action star—Naglalaro ng Apoy. Contemporary Filipinos appear to be blinded by the camera’s flashing lights and are mystified by the mythology of the fighter, deifying their big hair, leather jacket and moustache, disregarding lawlessness and incarceration and the innumerable guiltless infidelities as the background echoes such images. The visuality of erap and fpj obscures the woman and makes nothing but a shadow of her, the supporting role of namelessness. Such mythological heroes would advance to be the desired leaders of the country as the narrative of the story endures to its conclusion. No longer are power and leadership equated with the mystical—true power and leadership has been grabbed by the blinding limelights of Philippine cinema that has penetrated the Filipino sensibilities.
Tulak ng Bibig—the flowery promises of a politician finalize the pilgrimage through the deified mythological figures. Reminiscent of the song, promises made are immediately kabig ng dibdib, taken back and broken, as predicted and expected by the Filipinos. The better life foretold and failed by a stereotypical politician and religious leader, posing as the savior donning a barong, ironically with the only direct gaze in the series. This is the future of the contemporary Filipinos, living each day through false promises of a false prophet. They lead, they create, Filipinos are aware yet are still blinded. Lost on what should be done, they follow the new deities on their pedestal.
Critique of popular culture dominates the series. It expounds upon the ugliest sides of the contemporary Philippine culture. The worst side of the story is dug up and created into a visual imagery of critique and irony. The Filipino language game is used to emphasize what is wrong in the present situation of the country. Yet, the series is not mired up in hopelessness and loneliness. The critique of the everyday deities slaps the face of the viewer and confronts them, not just to see what is wrong, but also to contemplate on what must be done. The platilya is not a silver lining to this vicious critique. It confronts the viewer on what is valued and if it is in fact worth it. Breaking the pantheonic code, these new Filipino dieties are firmly placed in the consciousness of the nation. The series remain silent on what must be done, rather, it is the confronted, confounded and slapped viewer, the one that took this pilgrimage, who must answer to this silver-lined realities.
Rodel Tapaya potently manipulates Filipino idiomatic expressions in concocting new mythologies of the Filipino heroes and deified personas, often with the strong whisper of irony and cynicism. The series is engulfed yet separated from the traditional mythologies injected with a post-colonial visualization—appropriately raised in visual along with the esteem of the contemporary Filipinos. Mythologies and deities are re-created and created, enunciated through the effective visual language and critique of “Bulaklak ng Dila.”