The stories worth telling
Over a year in a pandemic, Filipinos, who are known to be models of resiliency, are experiencing the kind of struggle that is more than they can handle. Every day, stories of inspiration, of heartbreak, and of death emerge on our TV and mobile screens. These stories are molded into one by multidisciplinary artist Hersley Casero.
His latest exhibit, “Salt,” at Art Cube Gallery, shows Filipinos and the things they need and do to survive, such as the food we consume, the places in which we shelter, our family beside us, all molded like a puzzle, perfectly fitting each other to complete the human puzzle.
There are many characters in this human puzzle, such as the one whose survival depends on the harvest of the sea, or the one whose smiling dog is his only dependable companion in hard times, or the one to whom a tarpaulin represents shelter. Each painting shows how Filipinos are still trying their best to stand tall and move on, despite the pandemic long haul.
The sepia images take the viewer up close and personal to the chaos of the times and how the Filipinos rise above it.
“‘Salt,’ as in ‘asin,’ traces the contours of the pandemic life in an oblique, metaphorical way. My symbol of choice: the ubiquitous element present in our bodies as mortal beings and the larger bodies of the world’s oceans; in the food we consume and share as well as in the hulking landscapes our eyes devour in a moment of wonder. It also stands as representation of an expanded community, not only composed of human beings but also the rest of creations. Rocks are sand and sand are rocks, all part of the same cycle, they are each other’s essence. When we are together as a community, we form a strong rock, but apart we are just shifting sand. In a close-knit community and in a time of uncertainty and need, the way we adapt, persevere, and treat other people will come back around and affect our quality of life during this time,” said Casero.
Rendered in sepia, “Salt” is the continuation of Casero’s previous series “Sanctuary.” Its effect creates a sense of nostalgia that harks back to the time of the viewers’ struggle and growth. “This color palette has become part of a visual philosophy to convey the passage of time and evoke an ambiance of nostalgia,” explains Casero. “It uses warmth and emotion of light without its distracting colors to illuminate but not dominate each artwork’s message. It also fuses elements of both subject and form of all the series I have created since, to tell the story of what we are experiencing today.”
In each painting, at least one story is represented, in which other stories, little stories, like grains of salt or sand, come into the picture. “I didn’t want to represent just one version of the story, as the effects and repercussions of the happenings of this past year on each individual are way beyond the reach of understanding, even within the context of my fairly small community,” says Casero. “We each have our own story that could not possibly be told by another in any medium, art or otherwise. I did tell my own story, however, through the creation of this series, and the things I observed and the lessons I leaned from the people with which I was ‘in it together.’ My hope is that other people who view my works, particularly fellow Filipinos, will be able to relate to this series in some way or another.”
In the sepia series, one painting that stands out is “These Two Shall Pass,” with two figures huddled together under a tarpaulin in the pouring rain, standing in a flood, strangers perhaps, but still helping each other through the hard rain. The painting is a specimen of the Filipino bayanihan spirit and an eyeopener to the problems of the society. “It is a representation of an expanded community, not only composed of human beings but the rest of creation, from insects to fishes to birds to companion animals,” explains the artist. “While the context of the work may be read against the pandemic, that whatever currently assails us will relent and usher the arrival of dawn, it may also express a more universal approach to the world’s other—and possibly more pressing—problems, such as unimpeded capitalism, climate change, and environmental degradation. We are all in this together, the paintings says, and by ‘we’ it means the inclusion of the silent stakeholders whose existence relies on the good health of the planet.”
Casero’s art has always been from his experience, which isn’t very far from the collective and individual experiences of his fellow Filipinos. “My art is always a direct representation of my own experiences. Therefore, my art has evolved as I too have learned from the world and learned more about myself. Loss, appreciation, travel, interactions, research, love—they have all been inspiration for my work over the years. It’s really important to me to produce art that emerges from genuinely authentic and original ideas. Of course, we all draw inspiration from many places, but it is really in my core intentions as an artist to produce works that are new and different in their execution and very personal in essence,” he says.
Despite the pandemic doldrums, Casero has not slowed down in pursuit of his artistic passions. When he is not in the studio painting, he is out on the streets taking photos. When his hometown Dumaguete City was put under Enhanced Community Quarantine, he took photos of empty streets and the occasional stranger. Soon, he became Dumaguete’s official pandemic documentary photographer with an all-access pass granted by the city mayor.
“It has become an equally cathartic creative outlet along with painting during the past year of uncertainty, restriction, and anxiety. My paintings in ‘Salt’ were also created during the pandemic, which meant that I had to adjust in many ways to fulfill the creative process and bring the exhibition to fruition. It was not without challenges but it was mostly just a very rewarding and gratifying experience to be able to feel a sense of purpose and connection for almost a whole year of limitations. I was, and still am, so very grateful for art and to Art Cube Gallery for this opportunity in the midst of such trying and strange times. As of late, art has meant to me more than just a passion. It’s also been a means of emotional survival,” Casero ends.
Art Cube Gallery is located at 2/F Building B, Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City, Philippines
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