Michael Janssen Singapore is pleased to present its first solo exhibition with young Filipino artist Ronson Culibrina. Curated by Ruel Caasi, this exhibition titled “Blood Compact” features a series of new works which sees the artist reinterpreting the works of Filipino master painter Juan Luna.
A dramatic enactment of vow practiced in the Philippines, the blood compact is an ancient form of covenant sanctified by a ritual where involved parties toast to their combined blood drops. A binding gesture that seals pacts and agreements, forges friendships and alliances and creates loyalties and affinities, this indigenous custom was even adopted by the colonizers and performed with the local chieftains in order to gain the trust of the natives and win the support of their leaders. Immortalising one such instance, Luna’s award-winning historical masterpiece depicts Rajah Sikatuna’s pledge of allegiance to the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi that proved to be an act of submission marking the beginnings of a colonial experience.
A key figure both in the history of Philippine art and the formation of the Filipino nation, Juan Luna (1857-1889) was a native painter trained in the Academic tradition. He gained recognition in the salons of Europe and lived in the crucial era of emerging national consciousness and intensifying anti-colonial movement in his homeland.
More than a century after Luna, a nation grapples to define its identity and a culture struggles to emerge distinct amid a highly globalized world. Such challenges beg a look back to Luna’s years: an era in which his homeland began its engagement with modernity and international commerce, and when the Westernization of the Philippines culminated in the recognition of its natives in the cultural arenas of the West.
Taking the instructive potential of Luna’s life and art to contemplate on current issues rooted in the past, Culibrina recreates some of the well-known works of this Filipino master and intervenes by altering their original compositions- adding familiar images of consumer goods and popular icons, distorting portraits and inserting references to the works of other artists such as Ai Weiwei and Van Gogh, Luna’s contemporary in late 19th century Europe. These interventions offer a range of commentaries about identity, exchange, patronage and market in Philippine contemporary art and explore how strong foreign influences from a long history of colonial rule have produced a culture that is yet to define an identity and an art that grapples with the challenge of distinctiveness amid the international art scene.
Ronson Culibrina (b. 1991) lives and works in the Philippines. Graduating with a degree in fine arts from the Technological University of the Philippines in 2011, Ronson has been taking part and winning in art competitions nationwide since his student days. He has participated in a number of group shows and recently had his first solo exhibition titled Before the Sun Down at 1335 Mabini (Manila, The Philippines).