Our hero as cult icon

Published December 21, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Carlo S. Tanseco’s second exhibit shows the many faces of Jose Rizal as a reflection of who we are as a people

RIZALISTA Artist Carlo S. Tanseco in his Siargao Studio. Behind him are the matchstick detail portions (unassembled) of his Matchbox paintings for the ALIAS ELIAS exhibit

After his successful show last May for Art Fair Philippines, Carlo S. Tanseco has opensed his second one-man show “Alias Elias” at J Studio in Makati City. In his first show entitled

“Juxtaposed: Between Order and Complexity,” the artist featured the visages of popular figures in art, and various characters in Greek mythology. This time, Tanseco focuses solely on Jose Rizal. The exhibit runs until Dec. 30, Rizal Day.

Alias Elias

As intimated by the exhibit title, “Alias Elias” is Tanseco’s exploration of the various faces—and facets—of Rizal as a hero, son, doctor, lover, religious figure, and cultural icon. The title references Elias, one of Rizal’s most famous characters in his novel Noli Me Tangere, Crisostomo Ibarra’s mysterious friend and alter ego.

Composed of several works of acrylic on canvas, the exhibit is divided into three sub-series: the Stamps, the Matchboxes, and a Fencing Pair that ties in to the Eye Chart series in Tanseco’s previous exhibit.

“I was very much drawn to the Rizal Eye Chart series from my last exhibit in May and I had already planned my next exhibit on the concept of Rizal,” says Tanseco. “And then this show was scheduled in December and we thought, why not relate it all to Rizal Day?”

At the same exhibit, the new edition of National Artist Nick Joaquin’s biography Rizal in Saga:

A Life for Student Fans, which features Tanseco’s painting of Rizal entitled Solo Humano from the Eyechart Series as its cover art, has been sold in limited numbers. Initially commissioned by the National Centennial Commission back in 1996, Rizal’s death centenary, Joaquin’s book has now been reissued by Milflores Publishing with an introduction and annotation by Ambeth R. Ocampo, along with additional photos from the historian’s own collection. Tanseco’s fine art prints of Solo Humano has also be released at “Alias Elias.”

Stamp paintings

The first sub-series within the Rizal show are the stamp paintings, with each showing a vibrantly hued portrait of the hero juxtaposed with hyper-realistic renditions of Rizal’s popular themes, recalling the life stories, quotes, and historical situations we know best—the legendary moth from his childhood, a package of tuyo (“Mas mabaho pa sa malansang isda”), ophthalmic equipment, Leonor Rivera’s locket, Rizal’s pen. The postmarks on each stamp—one of the many Easter eggs you could spot in this show—indicate the location and area where each Rizal incident occurred.

RIZAL STAMP – TUYO The tuyo in this painting alludes to the National Hero’s famous quote about love for the Filipino language: ‘Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika, daig pa ang hayop at malansang isda.’
RIZAL STAMP – LENS Another painting from the slightly larger Stamp series, this one refers to Rizal’s profession as an ophthalmologist, and is also an allegory to seeing things more clearly
RIZAL STAMP – LOCKET In one of the sub-series, this stamp painting refers to the hero’s lost love, Leonor Rivera

“I have an affinity toward stamps. They’re like a message from the past. They’re art, but they’re functional. I’m not a serious philatelist, but I am attracted to the graphic quality of it,” says Tanseco. “Most of our early stamps were monochromatic or, at best, two colors, but had that cross-hatching from the engraving. Because my style is very linear and detailed, I toyed with the idea where, instead of using intensity of line, I used different shades of the same color to add depth to it.”

The other set of stamps features a more intriguing, mystical side of Rizal. “Mga stampita,”

Tanseco playfully calls them, referring to the smaller canvas sizes and their religious subject. All six paintings allude to the Rizalistas, a folk-spiritual, Philippine religious group whose followers believe that Jose Rizal is a divine being, or that he is God himself.


These six paintings are of the Rizal stamp paired with an anting-anting, a magical amulet or talisman. It is interesting to note that there were actual anting-anting embossed with Rizal’s image as “Jesus.” In Tanseco’s paintings, the stamp’s postmark encircles the hero’s head like a saint’s halo, and each halo bears a message: Kanino ka sumasampalataya (Whom do you have faith in)? Idolohiya bilang idolotriya (Ideology as idolatry), Tres Persona Solo Diyos (Three Persons in One Godhead, which is one of the prayers of the Rizalistas, and also the name of a registered group of Rizalistas).

RIZAL STAMP – SAMPALATAYA One of the first sub-series of the exhibit Alias Elias are the stamp paintings referring to Jose Rizal’s mystical side as the proclaimed deity of the nativist-religious group the Rizalistas. Here, the hero’s stamp portrait is juxtaposed against anting anting (magical amulets); Rizal’s ‘halo’— actually a postmark—is written with different impressions on the complexities of Catholic-Filipino faith
RIZAL STAMP – BULAG Acrylic on Canvas, 20” x 15”

Tanseco muses on this side of Rizal. “I believe that ours is a different kind of faith because it’s a mix of Catholicism, animism, and folklore, like a cacophony of various religions that were

Localized, coexisting, side-by-side,” he says. “These paintings could be about: Rizal is the patron saint or God of the Rizalistas… or is this just hero worship? We put faith in God, but can we put our faith in people—or in our heroes? Even in our everyday lives, sino ba ang sinasanto mo (whom do you woship)?”

The third series of paintings uses the same medium of acrylic, only this time painted onto canvas wittily shaped like matchboxes. Tanseco’s realistically rendered safety matches peek out of the bottom, tricking the viewer into thinking you could just pick one up and light it. That, subconsciously, is the intention.

Spark the change

“Our language, Tagalog, is one of the most romantic languages in the world,” says Tanseco.

NATIONALISTIC FLAMES Rizal Matchbox – ‘Nagbabaga,’ acrylic on Canvas, 32” x 18” x 5”

“There are countless ways to say ‘flame’ or ‘fire’ in Tagalog.” He writes all these down on the matchbox covers: Maging mitsa ng pagbabago (Spark the change). Magsilbing liwanag sa dilim (Be a candle in the dark). Sindihan ang pumanaw ng liyab (Rekindle the flame). Kamtan ang nagbabagang pangarap (Have a dream and a burning desire to achieve it).

“The matches symbolize igniting a desire for change,” he explains. Is it political? “Yes and no, because for yourself, you can also be part of change or spark change; but mostly, these symbolize patriotism, love of country. Just think, if Rizal were alive now, what would he say about everything that is happening to us? ‘Is this what I died for?’”

Rizal as Poster Boy for Filipinos

Tanseco says that the exhibit also touches on the fact that Rizal, even almost 125 years after his death, remains relevant to us. “Going back to the matchboxes, his face was used on PHIMCO matchboxes decades ago,” he says. “Come to think of it, Rizal was the number one endorser, but he didn’t get any royalties—and, he could really sell the product!”

The artist also adds that this exhibit, with its layers of meanings, could be interactive. “It depends on the viewer, how you would interpret each one.” Even the title, “Alias Elias,” suggests this.

Many readers identify Noli me Tangere’s character Crisostomo Ibarra as Rizal, the ilustrado, but for others, Rizal may be Elias, the Filipino Everyman, who sacrificed his life for others.

In its entirety, the exhibit makes you ask yourself: “Who is Rizal to me? What is it in Rizal that we could see in ourselves? If I were Rizal, what could I do?” Only you could answer that.

“Alias Elias” by Carlo S. Tanseco runs until Dec. 30, at J Studio, La Fuerza, Gate 1 Compound, Makati City, open by appointment from Tuesday to Saturday, 12 noon to 7 p.m. Follow @artjstudio and @carlotanseco_art on Instagram.