I did the notes for Looking For Juan, Vargas Museum’s annual collaboration with The Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development [CANVAS]. This year’s theme is “Revolution”, in commemoration of the 150th birth year of Andres Bonifacio.
There is a photograph of Andres Bonifacio that has turned iconic: an undated headshot in black and white of a man with a furrowed brow and a clenched jaw. The same photograph was rendered as a sketch in February 1897, shortly after Bonifacio was installed as the President of the Tagalog Republic—and shortly before his execution. With a coat on his shoulders and what appears to be a cravat tied under his closed collar, this picture is a far cry from the open-mouthed, bloodthirsty supremo carved into the national consciousness through monuments and history books.
It is upon a single photograph of a man whose remains were lost amid the chaos of empire and insurgency that the story of a revolution continues to construct itself. By lending a face to an otherwise anonymous multitude, Bonifacio’s legacy continues to this day in the need to personify the complex problems at the root of every struggle, problems that bear the threat of being abstracted by their own complexity. That Bonifacio’s name now conjures up images of both the everyman and the elite (think of High Street) speaks of an irreversibly fragmented society for which terms of the revolution must be redefined.
While the supremo’s hardened gaze, as seen in that exceptional photograph, has come to signify the struggle and heroism of the Filipino, this signifier fails to address the fraught subjectivity of this personhood that persists to shift as the source of oppression/revolution becomes harder to identify.