Identity and Ideology

Manny Garibay, Reunion, oil on canvas (2007
Note that this is not part of Ikalawang Milenyo

Manny Garibay, Ikalawang Milenyo
20 May 2017 Art Cube
Karrivin Plaza, Pasong Tamo Ext.
Makati, MM

The blurring of boundaries between church and state has been relentlessly examined throughout Manny Garibay’s artistic practice. Despite the bleak pictures he paints, his layered observations present a complex and nuanced discourse on everyday life and the characters that populate it. A preoccupation with earthly delights, with gadgets, with the ephemeral and material often appear in Garibay’s canvases, cradled in the hands of the everyman.

[…]That Right-wing populism has recently hijacked Christianity calls for a renewed interest not only in how people are guided by their beliefs, but in how religious institutions operate. Numerous instances of repression, violence, and intolerance—especially with Islamophobia running rampant in otherwise secular institutions—can be traced to the interpretation of Judaeo-Christian doctrine. And yet, the Christian religion remains a pillar of faith, empathy, and compassion – a resource for multicultural community, humanitarian relief efforts, and peaceful social integration. While Christianity has been a cause of alienation, for many, it continues to serve as a sanctuary.

In light of all this, Garibay reminds us of the need to soberly discuss the legacy of Christianity, especially in the Philippines: where, as a colonial consequence, it demands to be interrogated as sharply as any other inheritance from the West. In Art History, this is known as the discourse on modernity / coloniality, wherein the culture of the colonizer is exalted, legitimized as the source of “Grand Narratives” within the realm of anything from the artistic, to the technological, to the spiritual. In this case, religion—specifically Christianity—is integral and instrumental to the same enlightenment logic that ushered in the rise of neoliberal capital, belonging to the Grand Narrative of “The West”.

This is the argument set forth in Ikalawang Milenyo – a title referring to the two thousand years of the Christian religion and its ties to Western modernity. It is invoked in the composition of the titular piece, a corrupted Last Supper that bluntly critiques the personality politics that are imposed and inscribed upon the institutions of concern to the artist. The paintings on paper and wood, through a keen engagement with portraiture, turn a critical lens on the phenomena through which men become gods or are made into martyrs at the hands of their fellow men. As character studies, they document Garibay’s interest in the iconic and archetypal.

Although better known for his renditions of the common tao—a nameless, yet no less familiar figure in the Philippines—this time the critique is more pointed, as Garibay takes aim at the ways that fame, power, and money have wrested control over local institutions. A portrait clearly depicting boxer-turned-senator, Manny Pacquiao, is one of the clearer jabs at this continuing predicament, yet there are darker elements in the other works. Particularly striking, in light of recent events, is the inclusion of a painting of a policeman in Kalsada, indicative of the banality of corruption.

The sharp turns between icons and everyday people, even showing icons as everyday people, raises another problem in this displacement of faith within an all-consuming capitalist structure. In “Art and Knowledge: Towards a Decolonial Perspective,” academic and critic Therese Kaufman discusses the dangers inherent to the gradual but nonetheless deliberate shift from commodity capitalism, or the production of goods, to “cognitive capitalism” or the production of knowledge. She describes the movement of “certain forms of production”, mainly industrial and manual labor, to the peripheries, leaving the production of data—in text, in images, in a nutshell: knowledge—to the core; thus perpetuating the same Grand Narrative, a continuing coloniality of The West and The Rest.

Cognitive capital however is not limited to the production and consumption of data, as it is distributed in a global market, through global brands that did not necessarily displace religion, but function alongside it, sometimes as catalysts. With the data that circulates in this neoliberal capitalist scheme comes a deluge of images and information, sowing the seeds of culture, of faith, as well as propaganda and falsehood. With the endless streams of data inundating the consumer of cognitive capital, it becomes difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, the constructive from the destructive.

In the case of art and knowledge, it becomes more difficult to ensure that these products which typically come from a good place will, in the end, serve the common good—unless we revisit that crucial question, asking instead “What do we believe in?” Only then, can these images serve to undo the banal, seemingly harmless methods by which religion—often a source of hope and strength—continues to corrupt and colonize our spirits.

The image, Reunion was used in Rod Pattenden’s “Recognizing the Stranger: The Art of Emmanuel Garibay,” which appeared in Issue 68 of Image Journal

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