Two Filipino artists Kidlat Tahimik and Geraldine Javier showcase at the second oldest biennial in the world running in Brazil’s capital from now until December 2023
At the 35th São Paulo Bienal, the second oldest biennial the world—and the largest contemporary art event in the Southern Hemisphere and the Americans—Filipino artist Kidlat Tahimik’s “Killing Us Softly… with their S.P.A.M.S. (Songs, Prayers, Alphabets, Movies, Superheroes)” is front and center of it all. Located at the ground floor, visitors will immediately notice the vast, eye-catching installation—a series of “areas” fashioned mostly from wood, which he had packed into three containers from the Philippines. It is the largest installation at this year’s biennial, which he specially created for the event.
“Killing Us Softly,” is the artist’s continuing discourse on colonization. Indigenous stewards of the forests attempt to strengthen their sense of identity with the Earth goddess Gaia through myth-sharing. But threats, which he has acronymized as S.P.A.M.S. come in the forms of Ferdinand Magellan, Mickey Vader (a hybrid between Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader), the Trojan Horse, and Marilyn Monroe.
In a way, this is Tahimik’s wakeup call to Filipinos. “The problem now is that most of our young people know the middle name of Superman or the birthday of Wonder Woman but they don’t know details about our own inner superheroes,” he tells Vogue Philippines in São Paulo. It’s something he has attempted to re-write in his installation: Ferdinand Magellan is given a death blow with a pair of arnis (bamboo) sticks by Lapu-Lapu’s wife, Princess Bulakna, who was a warrior and shaman on her own; the Trojan Horse is repelled by a tsunami of Bulol protectors; and Marilyn Monroe—often portrayed holding down her windblown dress—is seen being blown away by Filipino wind goddess Inhabian.
“The missionaries and conquistadors knew that if you kill the stories and the culture, then it is much easier to rule the people, and maybe it’s easier to get their resources, their gold, their forests, whatever they can offer,” Tahimik shares. “We have to protect the storytelling so that Darth Vader and Captain America and all the other superheroes from Hollywood are not killing our stories. Even in the Philippines, we are so brainwashed by the superheroes, But if we tell our young people, hey, there’s also this story of Inabian there’s also the story of Matan-ayon, Maria Makiling, I hope we can revive that and maybe that’s the last hope for our planet not to go all the way to the climate change chaos.”
The Baguio-born and raised national artist for film was specifically invited by Manuel Borja-Villel, one of the Bienal’s curators and formerly Director at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. (The latter had also invited him to showcase in Madrid in 2021.) “With Kidlat, there is something that is extraordinary,” Borja-Villel tells Vogue Philippines. “He is traditionally a filmmaker and to me, he still does films, and that’s very important—to do a film without a camera; to understand a film in a different way. He creates a cinema where you are inside the movie. While society today often uses technology, his case is totally anachronic. It’s about machines that don’t work, Mickey Mouse who is Darth Vader—this mix up of times is going beyond cinema, and that is the reason why I brought him.”
Filipino contemporary artist Geraldine Javier is also exhibiting at the Bienal, with her installations displayed prominently on the second floor. “Oblivious to Oblivion” is a suspended installation made from embroideries of plants and vegetables on silk organza, interspersed with mirrors. “The fleeting reflections of spectators in the small mirrors further insist on an undifferentiated humanity,” describes art critic Carles Guerra for the Bienal, “challenging its deeply rooted antagonism with the natural world.” On a walled chamber behind, her works “Creatures in Search of their Species,” “Insist on Hope, Desist from Despair,” and “New Cloud Forming” are on display.
Borja-Villel had also handpicked the artist after coming across her work while reading Donna Haraway’s “Staying with the Trouble,” whose cover art was done by Javier. “Geraldine really develops a new form of dealing with non-human beings,” he shares. “A new form of nature which is totally extraordinary.”
Entitled “Choreographies of the Impossible,” the 35th São Paulo Bienal features over 120 artists from around the world, with recurring themes that highlight social justice, decolonization, gender balance and climate crises. The 35th São Paulo Bienal runs from now until December 10, 2023. For more information, visit https://35.bienal.org.br/en/
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