January 2015
January 6, 2015

January 6, 2015




“WHAT’S UP, brownie?” said the white man, and artist Eric Zamuco realized that this racist greeting directed at him. It was a sharp reminder of where he was. He was living in Missouri in America, and was just walking to a street corner near his home, but his brown skin was a mark of difference, and those from the country’s dominant race gave him a stinging message — “you’re not one of us.”

WORKS IN Eric Zamuco’s Another Other at the Ateneo Art Gallery: Tale of Common Things, Sacred Rainment, Battleship 6×4 from the Above Series (detail)

“Kapag ganun pala ’di ka maka
-react (When things like that happen to you, you can’t react),” he told BusinessWorld on Dec. 15. After digesting the experience, his response materialized as art.The exhibit, Another Other, at the Ateneo Art Gallery is a jungle of artworks — a column of blue insulation foam with extracted blocks, plastic containers piled like a totem pole, photos of the artist seemingly floating above ground, a video of the artist jumping again and again in the middle of a street, a collection of used soap, white rawhide formed into different shapes or sewn together like a quilt.The art jungle gets denser — a kariton (cart) with different shaped containers resembling a plastic city, a video showing the artist eating Goldilocks polvoron (a sweetened milk powder), old classroom chairs with missing parts replaced with neon lights, bookends each detailed with a person suspended by a noose, arches of concrete with ordinary things sticking out of them, a pile of comic book cutouts, and the black shadows of objects seen on a white ceiling.

All of these were produced by the 2005 Ateneo Art Award winner and were inspired by his experiences while living in America and his current life now that he has come back to Manila.

In Above Series, there are 83 photos showing the artist in “non places” or areas that are not tourist spots. “They could be anywhere,” he said. At these places, he would jump, and that momentary leap was captured by a camera. But these are not jolly jump shots. Mr. Zamuco never faces the camera — his body a pillar in midair. The space between his feet and the ground symbolizes his experience of exclusion. “There’s a feeling that you’re in this part of the world, but you’re not of it,” he said.

Mr. Zamuco made similar jumps for the video, Inosente. Performed at a site 100 yards from an actual 1923 lynching site in Missouri, the trail was also where he and his family would stroll around on a typical day. He decided to stand in the middle of the street and began jumping for one hour (with the occasional rest period). People passed by, but they largely ignored him. The edited version trims the experience down to six minutes and 20 seconds, and the collation produces a jerking image that looks like a hanged person’s last struggle for life.

Veering away from the usual art materials, Mr. Zamuco turned to dog treats for his pieceSacred Raiment. Since dog treats are made of rawhide, this fit well into his discussions on race relations. “When one talks about race, we talk about skin,” he said in mixed English and Filipino. He also gravitated to this material because he was looking for a Filipino and Missouri connection for his works. What came to mind was the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 where tribal Filipinos were exhibited to the delight of curious Americans. Later, the fair was criticized as being racist and imperialist.

Filipinos went to the fair “voluntarily and for economic opportunity,” said Mr. Zamuco, something that he can relate to as his stay in America had similar motivations. However, the tragic part of their participation in the fair was that they were forced to kill a dog, cook it, and eat it daily. “This is where ‘dog eaters,’ the derogatory term for Filipinos, came from,” said Mr. Zamuco.

When he began manipulating the dog treats, he created buttons, parts of a shoe, a ring, etc. These details were inspired by the book The 1904 World’s Fair: The Filipino Experience by Jose D. Femin, which has anecdotes from Filipinos who participated in the event. One girl was enticed to participate because she was given Victorian shoes, another participant said “oh I tricked the white man, I made these ‘wedding ritual bands,’ and I sold a lot.” There were also photographs of Igorots in coats and top hats.

“It was just a bizarre show,” he said.

Another work, Tale of Common Things, contains four years worth of personally used soap lined up on a long piece of wood supported by toddler’s chairs. Each piece of soap glows because of light boxes made specifically to fit each irregular shape at the back of the pieces. “This is proof that even though it’s so cold, you’re still taking a bath,” he said, referring to his stay in the US, laughing. “Ganun talaga mga Filipino (That’s so Filipino).”

Mr. Zamuco said he began collecting the used soap in 2005, but he didn’t know at the time what he was going to use them for. As it was his practice to look for an association with the rest of his work, he asked his graduate school professor for help. The professor gave an enlightening input — “Soap is a colonial commodity.” From there, Mr. Zamuco began to research and found proof — a print ad of Admiral George Dewey washing his hands and a missionary giving a soap to a man in tribal clothes. The ad’s text made the message crystal clear: “The first step towards lightening is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pears’ Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances, whilst amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place — it is the ideal toilet soap.”

The exhibit runs until Jan. 25 at the Ateneo Art Gallery, located at the Rizal Library Special Collections Bldg., Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Ave., Loyola Heights, Quezon City.