Pockets of pandemic memories

Published July 6, 2021, 11:28 AM

by Fojas Sara Grace C.

In prose and on ink on paper, artist and symbolist Abe Orobia releases his personal observations and contemplations in this pandemic

Abe Orobia

Abe Orobia is known for his artworks of women wearing paper dresses. For him, these paper dresses, fragile and crumpled, are a symbol of protective armor that are sturdy, intricate, yet beautiful.

But when the pandemic happened, Orobia has lost his muse. Artists were among those considered as non-essential at the beginning of the pandemic and the exhibit Orobia was preparing for was put on hold. Little did he know that the global catastrophe would become the inspiration to his newest collection, “Images of the Nation,” at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

“’Images of the Nation’ are social commentary works based on my personal observations and contemplations. Proposed and approved in 2019, [it] was originally scheduled for exhibition in August last year but then the pandemic happened. Little did I know that this global catastrophe would predominantly add more inspiration to the final output of my collection and bring me back to my earlier muse,” he says.

MANANAMPALATAYA, felt tip pen on watercolor paper, 2021

MANANAMPALATAYA, felt tip pen on watercolor paper, 2021

His original plan was to depict common folks wearing his signature paper dresses to speak about their plight in society. But after experiencing depression and having a hard time coping, he re-conceptualized the original proposal.

“This exhibition is different because it is not my usual symbolist style but rather realistic recordings of the time. I accompanied my works with prose. The paper elements are still present in my work but instead of my figures wearing them, the crumpled papers are in the background to depict our fragile environment and state,” he says.

Orobia combined literature and visual art to bring his message across. Though his works are small, they leave a big impact on people who are experiencing the pandemic now and on future viewers who will look back at this dark time for the nation and how we rose and found the light to get through it.

SUGOD LANG LABAN LANG, white ink on black paper, 2021

DALANGING MEDIKALl, white ink on black paper, 2021

Each of his pieces, with its intricate details and lines on paper, is an eyeopener not just to our personal experiences but also to the experiences of the people around us. Each drawing has a different narrative like religion and faith in “Penitente, Mananampalataya,” and “Silakbo ng Pananalig; the fight of the frontliners in “Dalanging Medikal” and “Sige lang! Sugod lang!”; the longing for home in “Mababa Ngunit Marangal”; the bayanihan spirit in his community pantry series; the tribal minorities in “Lupang Tinubuan“; and the farmers in “Nakayuko sa Lupa“.

“Each piece is individually crafted in a way that tackles certain issues. Technically, each work is a standalone narrative and each can resonate in different ways. As an artist educator, I am merely a recorder of our times. I might seem to be too critical at times yet I have nothing but praises and pride for our great country and how our countrymen are dealing with this pandemic. These are for me the images of Filipinos I want to keep and remember long after I am gone. These for me are the images of our nation,” shares Orobia.

KAMING MGA MAY ARMAS, white ink on black paper, 2021

KINARTONG PANGARAP, ink on paper, 2021

Aside from his thought-provoking pieces mentioned, there are three pieces that Orobia considers the major works in his collection: “Ang Sining ay Mahalaga,” “Pinoy Community Pantry,” and “Swab Test.” His self-portrait “I exist…We exist (Ang Aking Mukha)” depicts himself wearing a face mask and a superman shirt.

“’Ang Sining ay Mahalaga‘ is my centerpiece, from which malagkit and gata are conveyed as metaphors on the importance of art in different forms. The second was titled ‘Pinoy Community Pantry (Magbigay-Ayon-Kumuha)’‘ where I made miniature food items and composed them like checkerboards to denote conviction and apprehension and, finally, Swab Test, which I discuss in great length in prose. In my self-portrait, my eyes are looking straight at the viewer as if I am questioning existence and fate. All the elements here and gesticulations are intentional,” he says.

TINAPAY AT BISKWIT, felt tip pen on watercolor paper, 2021

For Orobia, art, pandemic or not, will always be essential. It is an agent of change in this endlessly evolving world and its influence can affect the way people think and make decisions. His exhibit, “Images of the Nation,” has proven this, with the help of his exhibit curator Delan Lopez Robillos and exhibition designer Wilfredo Offemaria Jr.

“Art is essential. It is a catalyst for change and affects the way people think, if not express themselves. Throughout the ages, it has become a tool and a way for people to execute and instill a concept. The role of art is not just to record instances but fundamentally to educate. Instinctively, survival and copulation are vital for species in order to progress in the natural world. We are not just mere creatures, but rather rational beings, so art as a driving force must be demonstrated in the manner of critical care. We can survive all these through companionship and understanding of each other’s needs,” he ends.

“Images of Our Nation” was presented at the NCCA Gallery, 633 General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila. Email [email protected] for more details.