Artist Melvin Culaba paints it as he sees it, drawing inspiration from today’s headlines to emphasize the social injustices he and his fellow Filipinos still experience every day. In Tao Po, his latest one-man exhibit at West Gallery, he tackles many contemporary issues still hounding our dignity as a people and as a nation.
To say “Tao po!” is a polite way of introducing one’s presence, usually before entering someone else’s house. Culaba is well aware this is hardly practiced by sovereign nations, overstepping their boundaries in disputed territories. And so it has inspired Culaba to paint seven new works, all depicting the senselessness and the injustice in our surroundings. For him, it is a must to paint them in large scale, to elicit the most impact, to open our eyes to such a frighteningly dark reality, filled with fraught details as you look at each work closer.
“Ang Batas Pangkaliwete” is a commentary on the Senate bill filed by Senator Lito Lapid for the educational system to address the needs of left-handed students. Culaba, for his part, paints countless chairs on top of each other, as if they stood for the numerous problems still unattended by our leaders.
“Dog Job” portrays an artist currently suffering from mental block, and turns to appeasing his other sensations. On the other hand, it is also a depiction of the low regard for human labor.
“Color Blind” features a woman appearing to be a hero yet also a victim of her desire to seek quick, fleeting fortune.
“No-Kor” is short for “No Koryente,” a statement on a young boy’s helplessness, as he sits silently in the dark and keeps his fingers crossed, against the threat of the destruction of the environment and foreign cultural invasion.
“Pekeng Duck” is a pun on one’s penchant to turn to deception for one’s own selfish ends. The subject, who is depicted with “Chinese” features, is spreading her arms out, as if to claim ownership of everything within her reach. Yet Culaba emphasizes continuing poverty within her immediate premises, a prevailing state of stagnancy.
“Ungoy-unguyan” and “Moro-moro” are a diptych, focusing on the two faces of conflicting ideologies. Culaba somehow sees it as a “stage play,” a “mockery” in which no concrete change actually takes place. It is all for show.
Culaba says it is in this approach where he is able to apply all his creative energy. The key is in keeping his subjects simple yet powerful enough to convey his message. To him, art must not only focus on its aesthetic value, but must likewise function to draw public attention toward unresolved social ills.