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A sense of place

THE PLACES we live in leave an indelible mark on us. Sometimes it is a literal mark, like a scar earned at a childhood playground; sometimes psychological, like the anxiety that permeates us in the big city, or the sense of freedom that fills us when we leave the confines of the familiar and explore the world. These places affect how we speak, how we eat, how we love, how we see the world. They also affect how we make art.

Take, for example, late Santiago “Santi” Bose (1949-2002), who is the subject of a three-part exhibit series at Silverlens Gallery, the second installment of which, called “Striking Affinities,” is currently on view.

The current exhibit features works that reflect the mixed-media artist’s reactions to his life in Baguio. It also reflects his travels to Manila, New York, Adelaide, Bali, and the Spratly Islands. The exhibit showcases over 30 works from the early 1980s to 2002.

“These places are homelands, contact zones, passage ways, hot spots, exhibition sites — shaping the work of Bose in the same way that the artist in a reciprocal gesture shaped them,” wrote the exhibition’s curator Patrick D. Flores in his curatorial notes.

“[Mr.] Bose responded to the place he was in or passed through, the ecology that the place offered, including the people and the community. From that ecology he shaped expressive form in dynamic interaction with the context.” Mr. Flores said in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

“[He] was sensitive to the material culture of the place and took risks in trying on forms unique or prominent in the place. He was keen to track traces of his own history and the history of the place,” Mr. Flores wrote on how the artist’s medium of choice affected his current location or places visited.

While for many people Baguio is a literally cool place to visit for a summer vacation, for Mr. Bose, this mountain city with its amalgamation of influences — the indigenous cultures of the mountain tribes, the pop-culture that permeates it thanks to its long-time role as an R&R base for American soldiers, its Japanese and Indian bazaars, its Chinese temples, the lowland Catholic religious traditions — was home. Baguio is a microcosm of the Philippines, an intense distillation of everything that makes this country, and Mr. Bose’s art presents the traditional cultures found in this country of varied foreign influences.

It therefore makes sense that upon entering the online exhibition, the page opens to a banner artwork from 1990 titled July 16 Earthquake, referring to the 7.8 magnitude Luzon earthquake that devastated Baguio City in 1990. It is a work which, like the rest of the collection, Mr. Flores noted, “may elicit multiple meanings.”

“We could see references to it around the borders of the work and some telltale depictions of the details of the catastrophe,” Mr. Flores wrote.

“There’s a looming landscape in the background, ominous but may also be expectant. Then, there’s the enigmatic figure at the center, who may be a specter or a shaman, the village idiot or the town sage, holding an orb or an image of the world,” he added.

After studying at the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines from 1967 to 1972, Mr. Bose pursued further studies at the West 17th Print Workshop in New York.  He then came home, where he founded the Baguio Arts Guild in 1987, and was involved in the creation of the Baguio International Arts Festival.

Mr. Flores explained in his curatorial notes that the term “‘striking affinities’ flips the phrase ‘striking distance’ to suggest how the artist’s travels were spent in search “for collaboration, solidarity, and discursive and political possibilities.” The word “strike” pertains to “the urgency of a situation” and the artist’s attempt “to make things happen in transitional space.”

In the exhibition, Mr. Bose’s work depicts many facets of the culture and lifestyle of the places he was at, such as indigenous traditions and faith healing merging with the modernization of Baguio; the city life of New York as seen through graffiti and an image of a standing figure in a subway train; a volcano, Buddha images, traditional roof shapes and lizards in his Bali pieces. Also included in the exhibit are documents and videos of proposals for Project Freedom Island and Pirate Radio in the Spratlys Islands, and floor plans and sketches of installations for his exhibit at the Adelaide Festival 1994 in Australia.

“Unique was his translation of the material and how he integrated his own place and history into the new material, which used to be foreign but became inevitably intimate because of his re-articulation. It’s a vulnerable and generous gesture,” Mr. Flores said.

The third installment of the exhibition series, which is yet to be scheduled, will focus on Mr. Bose “as a person and his subjectivity as an artist-citizen,” said Mr. Flores.

“Striking Affinities” is on view until April 17. To view the exhibition, visit —  Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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