In an archipelagic country, a peoples identity is always regional as geographical boundaries define varied traditions and languages. But artist Kristoffer Brasileño is attempting to deconstruct the identity of the people of the city and province of Iloilo.
Kristoffer’s “Ilonggo Republic” integrates religious, indigenous or contemporary iconographies that blend the old and new Ilonggo way of life.
But more than the identity of a people, Kristoffer’s second solo exhibition is an attempt to unmask Ilonggo art—whether it truly exists or art is just created by an Ilonggo.
“It is safe to claim that the art that I do may be referred to as ‘art created by an Ilonggo’ and all these art objects that Ilonggos create add to the body of knowledge that someday, we can create something that is distinctly Ilonggo,” Kristoffer tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
The exhibition, which has a grant from National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), shows an artist who is rooted where he is from, yet can use local elements to bring out universal messages.
“There’s a saying not to lose your accent when speaking another language, because that accent is your personal music. It is similar to art making: that somehow my environment plays a role in the presentation of the visual language and that gives a distinct flavor and identity whether shown locally or in the context of a globalized world,” Kristoffer explains.
One of Kristoffer’s 21 paintings at the NCCA Gallery in Manila features a woman clutching the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus), the centerpiece religious image that defines the Dinagyang, the annual January festival that has become synonymous with Iloilo.
Of the Ilonggas
In “Ilonggo Republic,” the subjects are mostly women. In a way, Kristoffer is “inspired by current trends and classical tendencies in the art movements in history and the relations between artist and muse” as well as convenience and the artist’s access to the subjects.
But more than convenience to the female subjects, Kristoffer is giving credence to the role of women other than being a mother or a nurturer.
The portrait of Lucia Caballero, or fondly called “Nay Lucing,” shifts the Ilonggos’ perception for the Panay Bukidnon, an indigenous peoples living in the mountain villages of Central Panay Island. Nay Lucing is the wife of Federico “Tay Pedring” Caballero, whom the NCCA awarded as a National Living Treasure. For more than 20 years, the public’s focus has mainly been among the male cultural keepers. But in the old days, it was women who were at the forefront of preserving pre-Hispanic traditions of chanting, music and panubok (traditional embroidery).
“Ilonggo Republic” is somewhat autobiographical as the exhibition has Kristoffer’s self-portrait with only half of his face visible.
As an artist, Kristoffer may see himself as an individual and an observer. But he is very much part of the Ilonggo community that he portrays and weaves his experiences having grown up in Janiuay town, Iloilo province before moving to the more bustling Iloilo City.
Kristoffer’s multidisciplinary works also extend beyond canvasses and the more than 100 group exhibitions he has participated all over the country.
In 2020, Kristoffer led a team that painted a mural of Graciano López Jaena, Iloilo’s hero who worked with Jose Rizal as part of the Reform Movement that eventually inspired the revolt against Spain’s more than 300 years of colonization.
During the summer, Kristoffer also taught plein air painting. He started a session at the Molo Plaza. He then had a partnership with Iloilo City government for another plein air painting session at the Iloilo Esplanade that is overlooking the river.
Kristoffer is also a college instructor. He teaches fine arts at University of San Agustin (USA) and digital art at Central Philippine University (CPU).
“Ilonggo Republic” runs until Sept. 30, 2021 at the NCCA Gallery. Ground Floor, NCCA Building. 633 Gen. Luna St. Intramuros, Manila.