Flesh and the vastness of possibilities in Ina Jardiolin’s ‘Stripped’ exhibit

Over the centuries, many artists, including the great masters, have indulged us with their depictions of the human body. In the modern times, can there be new ways to present the human form? Regina Margarita “Ina” Jardiolin, a promising young visual artist whose works give viewers a glimpse of possible new takes on gender issues in Philippine art, tells us that in fact, there is.

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In Stripped: A Solo Exhibit, Ina explores the landscape of the human body, imbuing it with interesting touches of whimsy and fantasy. In each of the 13 pieces, the 25-year old graduate of Painting from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts bravely combines the mundane and ethereal, for a collection that is at once familiar and novel.

Consider, for instance, the painting entitled “Stripped Collection 1.” In the foreground, a naked man/woman is shown standing, eyes downcast. In the backdrop, a row of snake plants with flowers, which she chose because “a snake can change its sex when necessary.” Between the human figure and the plants is a blanket of starry skies.Ina Jardiolin_Flesh and the vastness_Photo 1

In another (Stripped Collection 2), two human figures seem to be staring right at the viewer, while at the back, just beneath a stream of blue space, there are three butterflies gloriously spread out. That the wings are not identical is an important detail, Ina is quick to explain:

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The butterflies are gynandromorphs – or organisms literally born half-male and female. Indeed, most of the elements in Ina’s paintings represent the fluid nature and duality of gender and sexuality.

“The juxtaposition of the landscape of outer space is always there as a representation of the vastness of possibilities, and the never ending change that goes on within and beyond us as individuals,” she explains.

More importantly, Ina presents her take on femininity and masculinity. Through her works, rendered meticulously using a bold color palette, she questions the society’s ideals of beauty, sex, and gender roles, while at the same time inviting the viewer to embrace both male and female energies.

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To this end, Ina shares that she tried to make the figures androgynous, “a balance of both sexes.” True enough, in every painting, it is hard to identify whether her subject is a man or a woman. Where there is long hair, there will be a very angular face; where there is hint of smooth curves, there will be a very muscular torso. It’s as if she wants us to stop guessing, and instead focus on the more relevant questions.

Aside from the framed paintings, Ina also presented paintings rendered on old now rare wooden shoe lasts – an apparent homage to her origins, she being part of the Jardiolin family, thirty years in the shoe industry with shoe brands Confetti, Marikina Shoe Exchange and Natasha. This time, Ina is taking the family name to another realm of visual design using a theme that is close to her heart.

“The roles we play are defined by what is born between our legs: the Feminine and Masculine. To be successful at the feminine must act maternal, reserved, quiet and soft. To be successful at the masculine one must be strong, bold and adventurous, unafraid at pain. But who decided that one’s genitals defined one’s role in life? Why does it define our personality?”

To see how Ina Jardiolin used her paintbrush and canvas to tackle these questions, catch the Stripped: A Solo Exhibit. It will be on display from October 5 to 20, 2014 at Kaida Contemporary Gallery located at 36 Sct. Santiago cor Sct. De Guia Streets, Quezon City. #

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On propriety

There’s a dominant theme that can be gleaned from the critiques of the protest against DBM Secretary Butch Abad: That the activists were being barbaric, inciting violence and somehow disturbing the peace. But who ever said we live in peaceful times?

A war is going on in the Philippine countryside, no matter how the government tries to downplay it. Every day, millions risk their life and limb just to get to work in the metropolis. Every day, our children go to cramped classrooms that are ill-equipped with books and learning materials. Every day, poor sick Filipinos come to public hospitals but cannot be provided with adequate medical attention. These things are what constitute our norm, and that is a sad thing.

As I write, thousands are in evacuation centers across the country, waiting for food, waiting for their lives to get back on track. Metro Manila was technically not even under any storm signal, just rainfall warning, and yet we’ve come to accept it as typical: It rains, our lives are disrupted. On the news, reporters say, “Natuto na ang mga residente – lumilikas na sila nang maaga ngayon,” and I cringe at the implied message: It’s up to the people to learn and adapt. But what about the government implementing some mitigating measures, for which we really have enough funds? Sino ang hindi natututo?

And this is what I hoped these mighty defenders of “peace” would consider: That here in the Philippines, our concept of normalcy is based on our centuries-old struggle against colonization, poverty and injustice, and a grossly incompetent government. In class, my former thesis adviser (who happens to be the originator of the Pagdadala (roughly translated as burden-bearing*) model for therapy once talked about how strong the Filipino spirit is when it comes to “pagtitiis.” He would not be the first or last to observe that; even I, watching the news last night, was amused as a Marikina resident laughingly shared his Typhoon Mario “adventure”: “Nahati yung bangka namin!”

But it is a double-edged sword, this flair for pagtitiis that Filipinos supposedly have. While it has allowed us to overcome great tragedies as a nation, it might also be what brought us to where we are today: a country led by thieves.

In the end, there is absolutely nothing to be gained in calling for quiet and civility in these tumultuous times, only the preservation of the sad, sad norms we’ve come to accept. And being civil is not always moral, especially in the face of blatant disrespect of principles of good governance and democracy.

So be wary of those who insist on observing propriety or proper decorum. They were never the ones who changed the course of history.

I’d love to quote Lenin but I might sound angry (I am, but just a little; I expected this kind of reaction to the protests especially among those who benefit from the Aquino administration). So I’ll just come up with one inspired by The Perks of Being a Wallflower: We accept the governance we think we deserve. #

*But you see, “burden” already makes the experience sound negative. The “dinadala,” on the other hand, is not always a burden, but a responsibility, e.g. motherhood

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I co-founded a non-profit and this is why :)

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Meet Nivard*, the son of a farmer from Isabela and an Engineering student from the University of the Philippines. He dreams of becoming an urban planner who can transform communities into safe and progressive havens for its citizens.

In an ideal world, every child would grow up knowing they can become who they want to be. The world we live in now is far from ideal.

In the Philippines, 28 million people live below the poverty line. Education has, time and again, been touted as the key to social mobility, but over many decades, it has become less of a great equalizer, and more of a wedge between the rich and poor.

Figures from the Philippine Institute of Development Studies in 2009 revealed that of 100 Grade 1 pupils, only 14 will be able to graduate from college. It is not difficult to see why. Among the poor, even public education has become highly inaccessible.

The country’s state universities and colleges, including the University of the Philippines (UP), now suffer from the impact of dwindling government subsidy leading to increased tuition fees. Earlier last year, Kristel Tejada, a freshman from UP Manila, ended her life due to frustration over her family’s inability to pay her tuition of about P10,000 (roughly $250).

Tears were shed for Kristel, and many wondered how they could help.

Among them was an old friend from UP Integrated School, Sheena, who contacted me from Japan and asked me to be a part of a team, to be composed of my friends from high school and college. I said yes.

We agreed: No child should ever suffer the fate of Kristel.

We are one with the call to make education accessible to everyone, even to the poorest of the poor. At the same time, we would like to tap other resources available to help financially struggling students finance their education.

We founded Sinag Microfunds (Sinag means ray of light) as a means of pooling loans from the more fortunate among us. Our goal was simple: We wanted to fund the quintessential dream of every young Filipino: to obtain a college degree, and find a job that will help uplift her family from poverty.

The Sinag Team

The team: (Back row, L-R): Mary Anne Tuazon, Rica Cruz, Sheena Jamora, Meiling Lee, Margaret Yarcia; (Front row, L-R): Carla Baful, Juan Carlos Soriano

To accomplish this, we have set up a microfunding platform accessible all over the world. With as low as $20, anyone who believes in the right of every child to education can contribute to our cause.

Our job at Sinag Microfunds is to be in touch with a global lending community, as well as the beneficiaries. We screen students who are financially needy and have solid determination to finish their studies, and allocate the funds accordingly. Over the semester, we ensure that they are paying, so that the money can be loaned to other students.

In the future, we aim to forge links with institutions and organizations that can provide opportunities for our borrowers to generate income. We started lending to students from the University of the Philippines but we see ourselves expanding our borrower network to include those from other public universities very soon.

We invite you to be part of the Sinag community. Together, let us be that beam of hope to those who want to stay in school, but have been deprived of the means to do so. Together, let us fund dreams. #

*Nivard is among Sinag’s first batch of borrowers.

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and visit our website to know more about Sinag. 🙂

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The ploy

The United States is at it again.

Ten years after it invaded Iraq on the pretext of confiscating Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), it is doggedly pursuing an international campaign to punish Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people.

Like its predecessors, the United States government under Obama’s administration covers all grounds in its campaign to draw support for its war: taking advantage of its control over worldwide media, it has been relentless in distributing materials to show how ‘fascist’ Assad is, and how his regime has been violating the rights of Syrians.

Some of these materials may not even be true. Case in point: the photograph taken by Marco di Lauro, which showed rows and rows of people rolled up in white cloth, like mummies, only they are described to have been victims of the Syrian government’s alleged chemical attack on its own people. Di Lauro vehemently denies the utterly misleading caption to his photo, which apparently was not even taken in Syria but in Baghdad, Iraq, and 10 years ago at that.

While it is true that Assad’s family had been controlling the country for decades, American interest in upholding democracy is dubious at best, and malevolent at worst. The US government speaks of democracy but supports Israel’s air strikes in the Gaza Strip against the Palestinians. It speaks of advocating peace, but does so by waging wars not only against the armed forces, but against millions of civilians who have yet to demonstrate a definitive stand against the purportedly hated Assad regime. Isn’t it the contradiction of contradictions when the US claims to be saddened by the chemical attacks, and then plans to launch its own, this time with aerial strikes?

Further, this interventionism that the United States now showcases before the world, can be more clearly understood in the light of Syria’s close relations with known US ‘enemies’ Russia and Iran. This strike is not for peace, but for its vested interests in the region.

And it’s not even the first time it’s going to happen, such that it is ridiculous that many still believe the American script of benevolence in assisting the rebels in Syria. Wasn’t it precisely the same tactics that killed millions of innocent people in Iraq, and Libya, this ruse that they should be saved from the monsters their leaders have become? Or that against those who have evil plans for humanity, i.e. terrorist-led countries like Afghanistan, it is acceptable to strike first? Or that the answer to governments with WMDs is pulverizing their country?

Only later, we learned how America’s oil and weaponry businesses profiteered in the end, especially the top executives of the Bush government eventually rolled out barrels and barrels of oil from Afghanistan, and how there was no single WMD found in Iraq.

It is a shame that the world was fooled twice, by the US government, on its so-called campaign for ‘democratizing’ other countries. Now that they are at it again, may we all be militant enough to stand up against war profiteering and see through the ploy. #

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It’s my birthday! Down with bureaucrat capitalism!

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It’s not often that I can pull the ‘but-it’s-my-birthday-so-please-don’t-argue-with-me’* card (only once in 365 days, to be exact), so I’ll make the most of it. To talk about the Million People March. Especially this photograph which I took of that footbridge in Mendiola, where militants gathered after the Luneta rally.

Sprayed on it, in silver metallic paint (it is more vibrant in person, apologies for being too lazy to bring a proper camera), are the words “Ibagsak ang burukrata kapitalismo.” The snapshot is meaningful to me because it captures how the call to abolish pork barrel necessitates a systemic solution, that is, ending bureaucrat capitalism.

That can be a mouthful (or as Laida Magtalas would say, “Big word(s)!) to those allergic to the Leftist groups which had been consistently bearing the Down with Imperialism, Bureaucrat Capitalism and Feudalism slogans. But that is how you conquer the enemy – no different from the way Jews exorcise the devil. You give it a name first.

Bureaucrat capitalism is when the bureaucracy, the government, is run like a business, either directly or through their representatives, and it is their interests as profit-oriented entities that then prevail in the legislation or implementation of laws and policies. If I actually list down the country’s top capitalists and how they’ve essentially been controlling the country, I’d probably go on for pages.

Suffice it to say that we need not wonder why tracts of lands remain in the hands of a few families who have secured their places in the institutions supposed to execute land reform, or that many communities are being driven away from their homes by the state forces, because to bureaucrat capitalists, the potential of every square meter to earn profits as commercial spaces, is infinitely more important than the right of the poor folk to have a roof – no matter that it’s made of scrap metal sheets – above their heads.

So when these elected ‘public servants’ actually funnel billions entrusted to them by the people to their business ventures, however heavy “burukrata kapitalismo” sounds, it captures what is happening. The phenomenon has very little to do with individual discernment, so it would not do to trust that a ‘good’ person will not squander public funds. Marx has already explained how that goes: we are all mediated by our economic interests. And human consciousness is derived from the material conditions under which they live.

My point being, reforming the process by which pork barrel is allocated will not do, because reforms like that are anchored only on the (consistently debunked) belief that people in the government mean well. Except for a few (I feel proud that none of the representatives from the Makabayan Coalition had been implicated in the scam; for more on this, please visit https://teddycasino.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/proper-use-by-a-few-cant-compensate-for-plunder-of-the-many-or-why-despite-using-it-in-the-past-we-want-the-pork-barrel-abolished/), they are businessmen in barongs (and ternos).

So what is to be done, after the Million People March? Prosecute those who have allegedly misused public funds. Abolish the pork barrel to eliminate avenues for corruption. Including Noynoy’s. Especially Noynoy’s because P1 trillion is a lot of money for one person (or even a hundred, or a thousand). And most importantly, organize more protests.

At this point I shall borrow from the brilliant old (actually, dead) man named John Berger, from his classic The Nature of Mass Demonstrations: “The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.”

Let’s not make the Million People March a mere public spectacle. Let’s make it one of our rehearsals for revolution. #

p.s. That it is a rehearsal for revolution already should quash the hopes of some parties to make it a gathering devoid of politics. How can that be? Everything we do is political, because we breathe, think, and act according to our economic interests, and in every gathering, we bring with us our political inclinations, whether or not we are aware of it.

*I’m kidding. Please argue with me with your well-thought-out points. 🙂

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Before Midnight: A Review

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The Truth, or some version of it. I’d like to think that’s what we’re all after when we go to the cinema. It can be ugly, but when a movie succeeds at opening your eyes to it, it’s a beautiful thing. That much would explain why, of all the ‘Before’ movies, I loved the third installment best: it brings us closest to the truth.

Like the first two, it entertains us thoroughly, with two handsome lead stars bantering with each other armed with thoughts alternately silly and profound. More importantly, our thoughts are again provoked by their deep insights into the nature of human relationships.

This time, nine years after their reunion in Before Sunset, we are welcomed by Celine and Jesse, played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, as well as their adorable twin girls Ella and Nina and Jesse’s son Hank from his now-dissolved marriage. When they sit in the car, we see that both have aged, their faces now harried, but their gestures revealing more or less that distinct chemistry we loved them for.

‘More or less’ is a lazy way to put it; they still look great together but definitely, something has changed. In their last movie, they were fumbling for what’s there and what’s not and what might be, retreating and advancing like in a fencing game. This time they are at ease with each other, and at least for the earlier part, we sense that kind of comfort in togetherness that marriage often lends couples.

But by the time they dine with their Greek friends, we see that not all is well for the couple we thought were star-crossed lovers. I cringed when Celine was asked to recount how she and Jesse met, and could only mutter “Oh, it’s not romantic”.

It’s the truth. Married couples often lose sight of how, in the greater scheme of things, to find someone who connects with them on so many levels and decides to commit to them, is a truly wonderful thing. I am reminded of what Ann Druyan says about meeting husband Carl Sagan, in a passage that gets me every time, “That pure chance could be so generous and so kind. That we could find each other, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time. That we could be together for twenty years…We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.”

Later, Celine and Jesse fight, and we get a glimpse of their unpretty domestic life.

Celine is apparently unhappy with how marriage and motherhood left her no time to just play with her thoughts. She is so resentful of her situation, that when Jesse appeared to thwart her attempt to ease it, she comes up with her theories (hypotheses, if we’d be strict about it): Jesse is insecure about the career opportunity that opened up for her, Jesse is pushing her to move to the States to be able to spend more time with his son, Jesse simply wants her to remain a housewife. Her theories are so wild we all nod our heads when Jesse says, “You’re the fucking mayor of Crazytown!”

But this is not the Celine we knew. Our Celine is cool and playful though a little neurotic – now she’s just paranoid and bitter and irrational. So I think to myself, why the hell would Delpy, who co-wrote the screenplay, allow this to happen? I came up with explanations to justify what I believed was bad character development for Celine, and I hope these were incorporated into the movie.

Jesse must’ve been a lousy husband, one who, while appreciative of his wife’s virtues, failed to communicate it. With the way they fought, we can surmise that it was the first time Jesse ever reassured Celine of his commitment to her and to their family, or provided her the chance to talk about what she wants in life. He probably never opened the table for negotiations about gender roles, about who should take out the trash or pack the kids’ clothes or call a nanny.

As they rekindled their romance in Before Sunset, Jesse is supposed to know how strongly Celine felt about her identity as a woman, having control of her life, and fears about becoming the boring (or bored) housewife. And yet, Jesse turned her into one. Well, almost.

Thankfully, there’s this fight before midnight, during which accusations and grievances were loosely thrown about, and no denials were made about cheating episodes either. And it gave them the chance to rethink their relationship dynamic, and find ways to let each other grow within the marriage.

By the end of the movie (spoiler alert!), both Jesse and Celine had ingeniously turned it around, and we see that there is hope. And that there can be second, third, or who-knows-how-many chances for as long as both parties are devoted to their relationship. So, like their characters, we fall in and out of love, and in again.

It is this commitment to the truth, however ugly, for which I applaud Linklater, Delpy and Hawke. To tackle marriage as the product of really hard work, and one that isn’t free from frustrations and anger is brave, in an industry where movies often end in The Wedding. Even that scene with Celine’s breasts on full display is beautiful not because of its eroticism, but because it’s true: people don’t put clothes back on to answer a phone call.

Anyway, if I could have just one contention about this ‘commitment to truth’, I do wish they combed Jesse’s hair. Or gave some more lines to Stefanos even if it’s not needed, because the guy is really funny. #

*image from TrendLand.com

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The Great Gatsby: A Movie Review

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First disclaimer: I have not read the book. Somehow, a professor convinced me that F. Scott Fitzgerald was emotionally abusive of his wife Zelda, so I did a boycott of it.

Now that I think about it, boycotting artistic figures based on their treatment of the women in their lives would leave me with not many to be inspired with. It means I shouldn’t listen to Andres Segovia or Eric Clapton, or appreciate Pablo Picasso’s masterpieces, or watch George Clooney’s movies. I was too hard on Fitzgerald I guess, and not for my own good.

That said, I came to the cinema with hardly any expectations about the plot, and more about Baz Luhrmann’s famed direction. Atleast I can claim that I’ve seen his earlier acclaimed movies Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. From those, I expected great visual spectacle and great music. I was not disappointed on both counts.

The movie is a parade of all things bright and beautiful – from the colorful, perfectly decorated rooms where Nick got horribly drunk, to the lacy corsets and fringed mini-dresses of Myrtle and company, to the curtains softly waving with the breeze in the living room of the Buchanans, to the exquisite table settings, to Jay’s glorious, shiny yellow custom-made coupe.

It was a phantasmagoria for Nick, as it is for the viewer. At certain points, the visual parade went too fast, as fast as Gatsby’s coupe goes, but it all added to the style of storytelling. Of course, the height would be any of Gatsby’s great parties, which were a display of extravagance, of women in pretty feather hats and silk and velvet gowns, men in tuxedoes, and overflowing wine and food, a long, winding staircase, and in the middle of it all, a majestic pool. It was decadent, just as the Roaring Twenties was, so I don’t really take seriously those who criticized the movie for being over-the-top. Because as far as I’m concerned, that’s the whole point.

Now, on to my second disclaimer: I belong to the generation of young women who find Leonardo diCaprio to be the ultimate Dreamboy. I might be biased in my review of his acting, and he’s the reason I watched the film.

In here he is the Great Jay Gatsby, rich and gallant and dapper in his ways, but with a dark backstory that soon helps explain the inconsistencies in his character. He is composed most of the time, but terribly awkward in front of his one true love. He seems to be ambitious, even building a huge temple of opulence, but all he actually wanted in life was to be wed to his old sweetheart, Daisy, who is now married to Tom Buchanan. His foolishly obsessive tendency to insist his version of truth (that Daisy never loved Tom, only Jay) was very well captured by diCaprio, in a very tender moment in the movie, and we know that this is Leo who has very much matured from his Dreamboy role in Titanic ages ago, to the ones in Shutter Island, Inception, Revolutionary Road, J. Edgar, and Django Unchained before our eyes. And he has been equally convincing as a perfect, handsome young man, as well as a neurotic, a sociopath, a deranged criminal, and a gangster, that it doesn’t really matter anymore if he gets an Oscar. He’s had it in our hearts a long time ago.

I may have dwelt on Leo too much but I guess the point is, he’s already worth the ticket. As Jay, he is stupid and childish, and yet he gets our sympathy probably because his wounded but proud character resonates with many of us.

As for the other characters, Tobey Maguire’s Nick is sometimes believable and sometimes not, just like Carey Mulligan’s Daisy. Perhaps they were both burdened by their too youthful visage; Carey especially had moments in which she looked like a sixteen year-old, more than a woman torn between two lovers. There was rarely an emotional depth to her acting, and it seemed like the best pained expression she could muster was that of a high schooler choosing between a short or a long dress for the prom. Joel Edgerton’s Tom, meanwhile, is loathsome as the vindictive rival of Gatsby.

All these moral dilemmas and remembrance of things past came with haunting melodies, especially Lana del Rey’s Young and Beautiful and Florence and the Machine’s Over the love.

Every scene is perfectly choreographed, even the ones where there were hundreds of people dressed to the nines, where people danced and swam and sang and laughed and kissed and finished bottles and bottles of wines, like in a grand musical production.

We realize then that it’s classic Luhrmann, and a whole lot more. #

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