Jonathan Joven yearns for his own ‘Square Meters’ in this exhibit

Published March 30, 2021, 7:30 AM

by S.C. Fojas

Homeless dreams

Jonathan Joven

When artist Jonathan Joven was young, he would go out and ride his pedicab to pick up passengers and to sell scraps he collected from piles of garbage. Living in the Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila, he dreamed of one day having his own home, away from the stinky garbage that taught him to be resourceful and resilience. 

When their residence was demolished, the government moved them to a condominium for informal settlers—a four-story building housing hundreds of “squatters,” growing larger over the years. 

This journey from smokey mountain to a condominium is the inspiration of Joven’s exhibit with Art Cube Gallery “Square Meters”—a wooden cart filled with something big hidden under a worn-out cloth, a tricycle filled with more stuff than could fit it, wooden chairs on top of one another, sculptures of saints, galvanized iron sheets, an electricity meter—things that when you can put together to create a typical Filipino home, simple yet filled with sentimental, nostalgic things. 

“This exhibit is very personal to me because it stems from my dream to have my own place. Most of the paintings showcased here are ‘places’ that molded an individual’s life—where people come from and where they are going. These places contain memories and meanings of the people who lived and passed through them. A square meter is what you use to measure a house and I find it very symbolic for this exhibit.” says Joven.

Using architectural blueprint on tracing paper, layered with soft pastel on acrylic pastel ground, Joven creates memories on a canvas. Layer by layer, just like a man making plans for his life, he executes his dreams while never forgetting the people around him. Joven is not the only one searching for his home but the informal settlers living in the streets in the middle of this pandemic. Hence the cart and the tricycle, which suddenly transformed into a home.

“My ‘Campers’ painting showcases the resourcefulness of a Filipino—how they are willing to move from one place to another just to put a decent meal on the table. When I was young, I remember falling asleep inside our pedicab after a hard day’s work with my dad. ‘Condominium,‘ on the other hand, is where we transferred when our house in Smokey Mountain was demolished. It was occupied up to the rooftop because extended families of the informal settlers started to live there also,” explains Joven.

Aside from his personal experience, “Square Meters” also opens the eyes of its viewers to the lives of informal settlers. His works are clearly the manifestations of his youth and it is still the life most young people are still living in to this day.

When I was young, I remember falling asleep inside our pedicab after a hard day’s work with my dad.

“My experiences inspire me to continue my art. You can look at ‘Titled’ in two ways as someone who owns the property and does not want anyone to trespass or as the outsider, not allowed to trespass. Same with ‘Rights,’ a place where only the legal owner can build his own place. It shows the simple life in the meadows, which are slowly disappearing because of overpopulation. I remember, my family once lived in a wooden cart just like in ‘Adjacent’ near Grace Park in Monumento. We used the cart as a sari-sari store by day and transform it into a sleeping bed at night,” says Joven.

Finally, his “Same Ground” installation uses materials gathered from Smokey Mountain—broken glasses, plastic, scrap metal, charcoal, among others. “Same Ground” is the ground where he came from, a satellite view of his journey. 

Art Cube Gallery is located at Karrivin Plaza, Chino Roces Extension, Makati.