Portrayal | Exhibit gives faces to ‘the invisible’

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The human rights group Karapatan currently holds an art exhibit to bolster its campaign to free political prisoners all over the country.

“Portrayal” shows over 50 portraits of political prisoners — people whom the group said government tries to keep “inconspicious and invisible across history.” The Maximillian Gallery along Tomas Morato in Quezon City hosts the exhibit from July 24 to 25.

“These faces represent only one-tenth of the entire number of political detainees all around the country. The works present the broad spectrum of people criminalized, demonized and tagged as terrorists by a state ironically famed for its own forays into contemporary fascism. As portraits, they convey both the breadth of their subjects’ ordeal and the sense of personhood that the penal system attempts to strip away,” Lisa Ito, UP Fine Arts lecturer and the exhibit’s curator, said.

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Karapatan had documented 538 political prisoners in the country, of which 18 are peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. During the papal visit early this year, political prisoners called on Pope Francis to intercede for their release. But the Aquino administration denied that there are political prisoners in the country.

Ito said the portrayals tell stories, not only of the detainees’ ordeal, but also their “optimism and resolve.”

“It is this spirit of resilience which remains unshackled and unrestrained, moving across and beyond the confines of prison space,” she said.

Nikki Gamara, daughter of NDFP peace consultant Renato Gamara, said the exhibit gives faces to political detainees who continue to stand firm, and inspire others in the struggle.

The artworks also shows the artists’ solidarity with the call to free all political prisoners. Among the artists who exhibited their works were: former UP Fine Arts Dean Neil Doloricon, poet-musician Jess Santiago, former political prisoner Ericson Acosta, and officers of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines Renan Ortiz and Boy Dominguez.

The black frames for some of the paintings, themselves art works and expression of solidarity, were made by Donato Continente, a former political prisoner who was detained for almost two decades.

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“I was taken aback that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was promised amnesty if she would admit to the allegations against her. She believed the lawyer and now she remains detained. But the government did not only detain her. Also virtually detained with Lucy is her children, her whole family and their future,” UP Professor Jigs Almonte told Bulatlat.com.

Almonte painted a portrait of Lucy Canda, titled “Bakit.” Canda and two others pleaded guilty to rebellion, and was sentenced up to 14 years imprisonment. She is detained in the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.

Bulatlat.com editor Dee Ayroso’s “Walang pader,” a watercolor on paper illustration of Emeterio Antalan was also included in the exhibit. Antalan, NDFP peace consultant and peasant organizer in Nueva Ecija, was arrested in 2007 and is facing criminal charges before Nueva Ecija courts. He is currently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology – Special Intensive Care Area at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said the exhibit goes to show that political prisoners are not what the government attempts to tag them, but are “modern-day heroes.”

Text and photos by JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
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