Massive ‘Elemental Majica’ Exhibit Taps into MassKara’s Activist Roots

Crowds pouring into the Bacolod City Arts District are stopped by a towering brass sculpture.

It looks like a prehistoric bird of prey or an alien about to rip out someone’s house and bring it to oblivion.

But then a little trick dips the eyes in vibrant colors, and the would-be monster transforms into a giant child playing with building blocks. From yet another angle, it looks like a mother cradling a child.

rock on by Rafael Paderna recalls the rowdy young Turks of Bacolod in 1980, when local artists helped conceptualize the first MassKara festival as Negros Occidental entered the most difficult years of the sugar crisis.

Paderna was part of the Art Association of Bacolod (AAB), which later split when its membership policy changed.

Yet the Bacolodnon artists maintained their ties, marching to different beats but coming together when the local community needed them.

This larger-than-life work by Paderna – who moved to the United States in the late 1980s, discarding art for a living only to return and embrace it once again – is perhaps the best analogy of the arts scene in the capital of Sugarlandia, which is celebrating its 43rd MassKara festival.

The imposing brass sculpture of Rafael Paderna, “Rock On”. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

rock on recognizes the setbacks and the struggle to transcend them. It’s not just about “moving on”. He moves forward with the lessons of the past.

Rocking on is what local artists did in the 1980s, bringing playful tinges to realistic social themes that depicted hunger, human rights abuses or the degradation of lives in the struggle for survival.

Rocking on is what local artists did when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened their livelihoods.

Rocking on is what they do in this tongue-in-cheek “Balik Yuhum”, the 43rd MassKara Festival in Bacolod City.

Creative tension

MassKara was born to lift Negrenses out of a sugar crisis spawned by the corrupt regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos.

This year his guest of honor is the son of the dictator.

Bacolod’s new mayor, Albee Benitez, the son of human settlements deputy Imelda Marcos, gave his son a narrow victory of 10,000 votes in the city in the May 2022 election.

Benitez, however, is a live-and-let-live political leader. His campaign slate included some of the city’s most diehard anti-Marcos politicians.

The mayor’s MassKara team also includes key activists from defeated presidential candidate Leni Robredo.

Artists who campaigned for Robredo created the opening installation at the Bacolod City Government Center.

Furthermore, the natural tension between ruling politicians and progressive entertainers is as much a part of MassKara as the smiling masks and rivers of booze flowing during a nearly month-long party.

Artists collaborated with the city government to help quell collective discouragement in the 1980s. But they also exercised their independence with opposite artworks that forced the elite – who would also buy their works – to confront their role in the crisis.

This sometimes uncomfortable symbiosis is what makes Bacolod’s art scene so vibrant.

“Their commentary on the contemporary experience shows how alive the arts are in Bacolod and Negros in general,” said Rep. Francisco “Kiko” Benitez, the most academic of the Benitez brothers, during the opening on Sunday 16 september.

Charlie Co and Neil Benavante collaborated on “Balay ni John D,” a callback to Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. Photo by Aeson Baldevia
Love in the Time of Carnage

Elemental Majica is a feast for the eyes, heart and mind, featuring senior and young artists tempered by conflict, hunger, disease and dispossession.

Over 60 artists, including students, have created installations, sculptures, paintings, music, dance, and even an interactive AI installation, all in a prime building block called the Art District.

A passion of businessman Bong Lopue, the low rent of the arts district allows beginners and established artists to flourish in an exchange of energy.

Grain and polish exist side by side. Neighborhood anchor, Orange Gallery’s Charlie Co, shows as much enthusiasm for weekend stalls featuring up-and-coming artists as he does for upscale exhibitions.

atomic love, the art installation by Tristam Miravalles, Micki Boy Pama, Brandon Braza, Zabiel Nemenzo, Zanna Jamili, Zander Lopez and Megumi Miura, takes off from the war in Ukraine. It has a quirky, retro and flowery flavor, love bombs in the form of floor graffiti by John Crimson, Chester Somes and Aneks.

Guests enter the Orange Gallery through environmental murals by Faye Abantao. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

At the entrance to the Orange Gallery, JunJun Montelibao circus owl leads to Faye Abantao’s environmental mural.

Perry Argel, 65, one of the original founders of Pamilya Pintura, the rebellious artist group of the mid-1980s, installed an interior door from trash and other found objects.

MassKara wouldn't be MassKara without Bacolod's group of artists

Joe Geraldo, a sculptor who retains strong expressions of social realism, has a huge angel of death in a gas mask.

The roots of Joe Geraldo’s social realism are evident in his angel of death and his bloody messiah. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

Closer to home is his bust of a man, streaming red over his face, with one hand over his heart, where he rests during the national anthem, but clutched around a cross.

The roots of Joe Geraldo’s social realism are evident in his Angel of Death and Bloody Messiah. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

Neil Benavante’s installation is also a stark depiction of the conflict, showing a tank and driver, falling mini-bombs, hands emerging from the ground, and an array of howling animals.

His collaboration with Co, Balay nor John D is just as potent, reminiscent of Rodrigo Duterte’s “Tokhang” diet.

A creature brandishes a rifle above a covered figure depicting a victim of the former president’s mad war. Floating hands with strings attached to the shooter signify the powers behind the kill orders.

Yet as you follow the shooter’s gaze, you are greeted by a peaceful painting by Leah Samson.

Is it the hard-earned peace, fruit of the struggle against inhumanity, or is it the peace of the graveyard, or willful blindness?

Neil Benavante’s installation is art like a howl of primal rage. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

It will take days to soak up the richness of the art; fortunately the exhibition lasts three months.

On opening day, Kitty Cooper and other dancers at the Mandala Centering Place were mesmerized as they moved pleated garments in a sensual dance toward wholeness. Above them floated five masked aerial figures of Samson, Leizel Dator, Carmel Hibaler, Joy Delliva and Dennis Valenciano, who spent days observing the Mandala artists.

Cultivated peace as shown by Leah Samson and the artists of Mandala Centering Place. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

There is no message deemed unworthy.

Five fashion design students from Carlos Hilado Memorial State College in Talisay, led by Red Santillan, created another striking installation, encouraged by Co when they came to lament the possible closure of their program.

magic provides a platform for artists from different perspectives at the annual Masskara Festival, said artist Guinevere Decena. “This core of coming together to work in an environment of harmony is the challenge, the message and the magic.”

Students at Carlos Hilado Memorial State College are protesting the planned closure of their fashion design course. Photo by Aeson Baldevia

Local with a global perspective is what Co dreams of this new group of artists.

He brought in Andre and Juliana Vrady, native Russians and both now residents of Germany, and their interactive AI with “patented mood conversion software”.

They filmed the artists at work over the past 15 days, capturing the emotions in bursts of color – red for anger, yellow for joy, all ranges of feelings turning into abstract art.

It is a dialogue between man and technology, just like magic is an ongoing summons to the realities and fantasies of MassKara. – Rappler.com

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