Back to article list

July 05, 2012


Manu Farol and Odin Sena
Curator-Jonathan Olazo
NCCA Gallery
633 General Luna St. Intramuros, Manila

July 19- August 19, 2012

  In opposition to the exclusive characterization of word-meaning as concepts, the figurative and symbolical character of language is pushed to the foreground.

Akma, like many other Filipino words, has two meanings on one hand, it is the word to describe what is proper, suited, fitting; on the other, it connotes a threatening gesture.

In the case of Oddin Sena and Manu Farol, these two levels of meaning take form in an exhibition entitled ‘Akma’  – wherein these two young artists from the College of Fine Arts of UP Diliman challenge the propriety of the Filipino-English language by questioning its bounds, from within as well as without.

Since language is the agent through which we construct identity, the mixture of Filipino and English into its present Taglish form is the hybrid child born of a long history of interracial encounters that pervades through the present Filipino psyche.  An identity crisis that one must come to terms with on several dimensions – the socio-political, the cultural, the individual. 

Filipinos are a mixed breed of Malay, Chinese and European descent – wrapped, coated and deep-fried in American grease –  all these rolled together in each person: a global citizen before the term was coined, at home in his own country. Our history is almost like a cultural schizophrenia one is forced to struggle with on a daily basis, in addition to the formidable influence of the West that permeates through education, media and commerce. Yet, the Filipino stands distinctly rooted in spite of a situation full of paradoxes – quick to adapt and modify beliefs and ideas, able to create new mind-sets without completely severing ties to tradition. And this he does, to and through language.

On that note, Oddin Sena re-invents his father Fernando’s relationship to painting, as he creates puns from combining Tagalog and English words with homonymous syllables,  creating a pictorial level of meaning for a language he can call his own; friend and cousin Manu Farol draws attention to its limits by visual interpretations of experience that transcend definition by words.

Oddin deconstructs words as he opens up their syllables. Through their phonemic utterance, he twists their meanings to create a visual narrative.  An almost innocent teasing poke at the native pronunciation of English forced upon a people, the text results in its broken form.  The native puto (also, the native inflection of the word ‘photo’) becomes ‘putocopy’ – reflecting the common Filipino’s habit of poking fun at his own ‘unsophisticated’ [implying un-westernized, therefore inferior] and simplistic nature, through the use of written and visual images.

This humorous self-deprecation belies the remnants of a painful colonized past where English was the exclusive tongue of the educated; as well as the lingering presence of a cultural imperialism adapted into the contemporary Filipino identity.  Simultaneously, he brings the two languages together by opening up a space through visual imagery that fuses their meanings while retaining their literal concepts (‘aso/ asociation’).
In Heiddegger’s words: the two modes (…) are different but not separated. But neither are they merely coupled together. For world and things do not subsist alongside one another.  They penetrate each other.  Thus the two traverse a middle.  In it, they are at one.

While Heidegger refers to stanzas of a poem, Oddin plays with the two tongues he was born into and encounters in daily conversation, mixing them interchangeably with a facility that we would mistake for natural in our culture.  The word consequently no longer means a distinction established between objects only by our representations – but, layer upon layer, Oddin piles on the potential ascriptions, playing with the structure of language by disfiguring and disturbing the peace within its literal confines.

On the other side of the division between the literal and figurative, Manu Farol raises questions about the symbolic:   Who is to say that the conscious fragment of perception is the only valid part, because it is defined by language?  Does logos and the logical rationality of the speakable thus then put a limit on what is real, what is actual?  

Jungian studies claim that pre-existent to language is the collective unconscious, which communicates visually in the universal mode of the image.  The visual language stretches the reach of perception and expression of what occurs before cognition, before it is captured and imprisoned by words and its constructs, which formulate consciousness. 

Perhaps this explains why Manu’s conceptualization occurs in hindsight.  Through quiet subversion of conventional religious symbolism, he engages the viewer in a dialogue of visual perception, and leaves us with more questions than answers – exposing the limits of language and iconography through a narrative that is at once complete yet left hanging.  Through the play of presences and absences, we are taken along the winding path of his aporia (irresolvable internal contradiction), stemming from the individual experience of inner conflict in dealing with the traditions of his Catholic upbringing and the search for a personal truth.

As far as i can remember challenges the bounds of language as a defining medium for perception as well as truth (the text – so far as i can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of Intelligence – intermingles withthe severed index finger of the right hand on a school desk, which might pertain to a loss of institutional infallibility).  By suggestion and metaphor, the artist leads us to explore a space undefined by language in the realm of the spiritual.

Traversing parallel roads, Oddin Sena and Manu Farol negotiate Filipino colonial heritage and its endless ringing in the contemporary landscape, through a deconstruction worthy of Derrida’s aphorism.  By opening the grounds between the oppositional principles of the propriety of language as the expression of the experiential, their works lead us to re-visit, un-think and un-define the conventional boundaries of word and image, alluding to the fragility of these in bearing the burden of containing experience.


For more information about the NCCA Gallery, please contact Ethel Buluran or Mimi Santos at +632-527-2212. The NCCA is located at 633 Gen Luna St. Intramuros, Manila.