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Winner Jumalon and the artistic construction of reality

In Photo: Ta Sale Ya El Prusisyon (The Procession is Leaving)

IN his recent collection of artworks, critically acclaimed artist Winner Jumalon looks back to memory and subjectivity as the birthplace where art can be made or promised. The paintings may be seen at his soon-to-be-unveiled show Juramento at the Yavuz Fine Art Gallery in the Gillman Barracks, Singapore, from January 19 until March 1. The show is slated to open alongside the events of Art Stage Singapore, one of the region’s biggest art fairs.

Dios Conciente No Para Siempra (God Consents But Not For Always
Dios Conciente No Para Siempra (God Consents But Not For Always

Juramento is an oath that is both a promise and a statement of fact. In his paintings, Jumalon reaches consciousness by exiting the temporal world and entering the memories of youth and his hometown of Zamboanga, a city in Mindanao often misplaced in the geopolitical landscape as a minor theater where the tug-of-war between Christians and Muslims exists, alongside the latent evidence of refugees, prostitution and other phenomena, as recently exposed in the media.

Jumalon displaces his memory of youth and the painful stages of rebirth as an artist in this place by solidifying the remnants without giving any judgment. The artist is, because of the totality of experience, whether happy or traumatic. But to locate a work within the context of Zamboanga, or in any other city for the matter marred by protracted war and suffering, is already explosive in itself. Jumalon does not side with either Muslims or Christians, but only reminds them of the oath that there should be peace among men. This, to our mind, is the hidden meaning of Juramento.

IN LOVE WITH PAINT

Jumalon has always been in love with paint, this slick substance that he uses in thick and ever thicker layers to construct his images that are laden with impulsive markings. When we first discovered him, in time for his amazing debut at Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK), back when Valentine Willie was still managing Manila Contemporary at the back of WhiteSpace in Pasong Tamo Extension and was representing him at ABHK a few years ago, we were already enthralled by how this young man can seemingly mar his paintings with illogical marks and yet make them seem beautiful.

For the Yavuz show, Jumalon continues drawing from specific faces and spaces that inspire him. As noted in the show’s preface, “His body of work can be characterized by an ongoing exploration of personal, cultural and artistic identities, which are often fluid and interlinked.” Juramento is inspired by the language, stories, customs and landscapes of Jumalon’s Zamboanga which permeate the titles of the artworks. These are rendered in Chabacano, a Filipino creole language derived from Spanish and widely used in Zamboanga.

The preface explains: “In Juramento, Filipino culture and history are explicitly linked with his own experiences and family history, in layered images populated by figures both real and mythical. In one painting, he associates an image of his mother tilling the soil with the origin myth of Zamboanga City’s Pasonanca district. In his series of three Juramentado paintings, Jumalon depicts himself as the titular Juramentado, an oath-bound Moro warrior from Filipino history, relating this striking figure to his own journey and convictions as an artist. With his constant references to Zamboanga City, one senses yet another oath in Jumalon’s works—one to his city of birth, to always remember and always return.”

NOT THE SAME

The invitation of returning may be an act of eternal recurrence, but when one returns, will one always be the same?

In reading images, one is not the same after having viewed Jumalon’s best works. One of them in the current trove may perhaps be the painting Nuay Muerte (No Death). Grounded in urban mythology, the canvas portrays a man who infamously makes the rounds of talk in Zamboanga. Going by the alias Mano’y Fusil (“Hand of Gun”), he is ascribed as a former killer and is feared by everyone. Jumalon explains, “According to rumors, he is a man of few words, and if anybody tried to quarrel with him or was plotting against him, he would immediately eliminate that person.”

Yet, to the artist’s mind, this dark figure and the reputation that precedes him are both based entirely on hearsay. Old wives’ tales have the propensity to create meaning where there is none. Thus for the painting Nuay Muerte (No Death), Jumalon allows us access to his own memories of nothingness. On the surface, he starts by exploring the subject matter’s associative nature. He starts with hard evidence of the other’s existence or lack thereof, gathering actual pictures or mental images. In the long chain of associations, he selects key character elements, then starts representing them, letting one element trigger another and so on, until the completed work becomes a construction worthy of aesthetic judgment. But how to make substance out of unsubstantiated stories and rumors?

For Nuay Muerte (No Death), he transposes a colorful gun (fusil) made out of Lego blocks. It is a suggestion that the subject is a construction. “Our public selves can be constructed, invented, taken apart,” reads the show’s frontispiece.

“As is typical of Jumalon’s works, seemingly random scribbles, sketches and broad strokes of paint interrupt the painted canvas like graffiti, further obscuring and throwing the man’s identity into question. By conflating history, myths and autobiography, Jumalon examines the Philippines’s shared cultural legacy that shapes his own.”

And so we ask others, when are you going to start a better, more thought-provoking construction?

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