Every week, we’ll be sharing a video, notes, or images from our past exhibitions in a series we’re calling #revisit.
The exhibition series Santiago Bose: Painter, Magician revisits the works of late Filipino artist Santiago Bose, whose unique style and oeuvre addressed social and political concerns around the Philippines. Curated by Dr. Patrick D. Flores, Bare Necessities, the first phase of this series, focuses on the impulses of Bose’s artistic language and how these are harnessed to produce distinct form, critical discourse, and urgent impulse. In this walkthrough, Dr. Patrick D. Flores is joined by Peggy Bose to discuss selected pieces from the artist’s extensive practice.
Watch the full walkthrough of “Bare Necessities” by Santiago Bose on our IGTV.
This walkthrough has been edited and condensed for clarity.
PEGGY BOSE (PB)
PATRICK D. FLORES (PDF)
PB: In the beginning, I was wondering why you chose these paintings? Because, I felt that they were not his strong pieces. Can you tell me again, why?
PDF: Yeah, it’s a great anxiety and apprehension to think that or to wonder why I chose works that were not easily recognizable as iconic or exemplary of Santi’s practice. Precisely, it was my intention to resist the temptation to just repeat what is almost common sense about Santi. When an artist achieves a certain level of stature or renown, people tend to depend on a shorthand of his art, a certain signature style or form. Oftentimes, they reduce the extensive or vast practice to that signature form— to that iconic style.
So, this is a long-term effort, meaning a long haul effort. I thought it would be more productive to do something in terms of stages or step-by-step. Beginning with the artistic language; how Santi as an artist was able build up a language to express what he wanted to over a period of time. That must be the input. It was really meant to fight that expectation. Did he ever express a certain frustration that he was not recognized?
PB: Oh yeah…Two years ago, the U.P. Alumni Fine Arts alumni gave him an award. Parang Gawad Sining, parang ganun [English: Like “Gawad Sining”, something like that]. So, I wrote a speech. At the end of it, I said, “Santi ito na. Pinapansin ka na ng U.P.” [Santi, this is it. U.P. is recognizing you]. Two weeks before he died, I saw he was going up to Baguio. Sabi ko, “Santi ‘bat ka aakyat sa Baguio meron ng exhibit ang alumni ng Fine Arts sa Shangri-la.” Sabi niya… konting curse (laughs)
[I said, “Santi, why will you go up to Baguio? There’s an exhibit by the alumni of Fine Arts in Shangri-La”. He said, a small curse].
PDF: (laughs) Delete it!
PB: Delete it. Sabi niya, “U.P. naman, hindi naman pinapansin yan eh.” Sabi niya, “sino sino ba nandon?” Sabi ko… sabi ko, “Ah, sila Esther Vinluan, si Bim [inaudible] si BenCab. ‘di ako pinansin yung U.P. So, and you know, and also I think by doing that na medyo naging magulo yung Baguio Arts Guild but that’s a different ano naman—
[He said, “It’s U.P. anyway, they won’t recognize me.” He said, “Who will be there anyway?” I said, “Ah, Esther Vinluan, Bim [inaudible], Beth Cam.” I won’t be noticed by U.P. so I think that by doing that the Baguio Arts Guild became disorganized but that’s a different thing—]
PB: —but he felt that he was not being valued for all his efforts in reviving the Guild— you know, all the things he did for the Baguio Arts Guild.
PDF: So I think this is also a good time to revisit Santi’s efforts. The title of the entire project is “Painter; Magician”. This is lifted from a CV he submitted to the 1976 Thirteen Artists Grant of the Cultural Center of the Philippines so—
PB: So we have that here!
PB and PDF walk over to Santiago Bose’s CV shown in the gallery
PDF: Yeah, so we have that here, yes. This CV is interesting partly because of that phrase which he placed to describe his current position as painter; magician. In many ways, those two words capture his—
PB: —and to think he was only 26 at that time and then he passed away at 53. So, he pretty much changed.
PDF: Yeah, I think the painter part comes with his art world education in the formal sense, alluding to fine arts, doing the gallery scene, exhibiting, so on and so forth. But the magician refers to a larger world that may be independent of the art world. The magician part talks about his involvement in the culture of the Northern Cordilleras. It also takes him to a different dimension— a magical dimension— of talismans, anting-anting, amulets, and faith healing in Baguio. So the magician, in a way, is to some extent a foil to the painter, which is more formal, more exhibitional— well, more normative, in a sense. But magician gave him more freedom to deal with the multiverse.
For me, as a curator, I always look for impulses from the artist from the artists themselves. They should be framed, that they should be part of, or their voice should be heard in the exhibition even if they don’t curate it.
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, Eyes of Gauze, 1983
PDF: So we move on to this portrait.
PB: 1983. And you know it has some of these drawings were made by one of my children.
PB: You know, what he does is, he likes incorporating some of the kids’ works in his paintings because to him, a lot of his works are more personal, so parang yung personal experiences niya…
PDF: So he’s open to collaboration, which is maybe an impulse of Santi. We also see of course the element of collage which is part of the vocabulary of Santi over time, as well as this motif of the frame that can be a window, that can be a door, a certain portal. I think it recurs in Santi’s works.
The self-portrait isn’t only a depiction of the self in this case, but is also some kind of a manifesto of his artistic practice with his impulse of collage and desire to be a part of a wider word, but only through a particular perspective which is referenced by this frame.
This is San Miguel— no, no, oh! Santiago Motamoros. This might be— not sure— the patron saint of the recogista of the… Saint James the Moor-Slayer. I think. Because that’s the iconography.
PB: Ano ba yung nandon? [What is there?] “We shall…”
PDF: So who was the daughter who—
PB: I think it’s Diwata.
PDF: Ah okay.
PB: Oh, and look at this! This is an excerpt from the book Magus— one of our favorite books from the 70s, The Magus. “We shall not cease from expirations from explorations”
PDF: So there is a mix for the biographical and then the social cultural.
PDF and PB walk over to the first section of the exhibit, “Archive”
PDF: So the Archive constitutes sources of critique, invention, disfiguration, re-situation. We realized that the archive of Santi was extensive, so he had brought sympathies as an artist who was always curious about the source of his art.
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, Souvenirs, 1975
PDF: I think this one was made in ‘75 and directed first to Baguio.
PB: This piece is Baguio souvenirs.
PDF: And then we see this again, these windows. And the idea of souvenirs is biographical kasi they had a souvenir shop no? The mother managed it?
PDF: What did they sell?
PB: Carvings, wood carvings, those that the Igorots made, and then I think they were only being sold for something like 10 pesos in the early ‘70s.
PDF: And they were which part in Baguio was the…
PB: In the market.
PDF: Ah in the market! Like the wet market?
PB: No, in the dry section of the public market.
PDF: Ah wow!
PB: So they had a stall and they were selling the wood carvings there.
PDF: Do you remember the name of the store? There was no name?
PB: If there was, siguro the name of his mother Lourdes
PDF: So in one of his essays, Santi thought of the souvenir shop as a contact zone for him because a contact zone between the Baguio people and then the ethnic groups that would come to Baguio to exchange materials like carvings, so on and so forth. So I think that was uh that formed a part of his consciousness of his unique position that he was in the city— urban, cosmopolitan— but at the same time, there was this other world that comes over to exchange its materials. So, and maybe that exposed him to the idea of appropriation of a certain culture within a certain culture and a diff culture or maybe cultural politics of uh… between cultures as well as the history of colonialism that there was this other culture that would be marginalized. So the archive of Santi involved historical photograph, as well as comics or textbook so at the start he referred to I think this is clearly book—
PB: and photographs—
PDF: —and photographs and he would just graph them onto a textured surface like this. I’m not sure what this is, but we are still studying it.
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, The Great Liberation, 1986
PDF: He is also in conversation with art history or political history like in this case the Chinese context in relation to dures de la julia so there is the very lively exchange between sources of materials in Santi’s works you never know where they come from.
PB: Gosh, I never even knew that.
PDF: This one I don’t really know yeah but you can see that it’s happening at the same time.
Artworks being discussed: Santiago Bose, Solar Art Series (Sources of Water), 2002
PDF: And then here is another source of materials which is the found object. You find them in bookstores or department stores and they are teaching aides. If a teacher wanted to make the class more lively, he or she would present teaching aides that illustrate in this case nutrition, or maybe maybe geology, or bodies of water, or maybe geography for Wonders of the World, or geology or earth science as they call it in Philippine high school so that’s the found object and then they would further work on it through the aide of the sun.
PB: Solar art niya daming class to the burn paper
PDF: Did you see him do it?
PDF: Where did he do it?
PB: Outside, just outside the house in Baguio but I must have only seen it once. because he only really did it in the latter part of his uh…
PDF: Yeah so I think he did solar art then did the latter part
PB: So these are burnt parts and then uh covered it with gold paint
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, Visayas Dream, 1999
PDF: So another source of the archive of Santi
PDF: So this is the ground shifts from found objects or textured surface. Here is the carpet, the ground and it seems to me it’s quite obvious that there was this trip or reference to Vietnam
PB: he also did a series on using Narda Capuyan’s carpets from Baguio so he did that
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, Warning!, undated circa 1999
PDF: And this one would involve the photocopier no? I think the photocopier, so that’s another technique when he had photo transfers there he would also use the photocopier and more popularly known in the Philippines as Xerox and would make tiles because he couldn’t have the entire image in one singular thank you and they are numbered so it becomes some kind of a tile or a patchwork some kind of a quilt Xerox quilt
PB: But you remember the self-portrait where he also used a photocopier of his on the door? Although it’s not here…
PDF: It’s not here. (laughs) so I think that kind of unevenness of surface refers to this unevenness of the ground of the presentation could be that he’s from a from a critical perspective that might be the thing the relationship that one can never be so sure of this language of representation that’s why he tries to stabilize it by creating these disruptions through the seams of the tile that it’s not even, it’s not seamless, it’s more complex than that. So he might have seen or felt the need to visually articulate it not just to say that it is but to find the language for the formal language for that. Aside of course from acknowledging the new technology that is available to the contemporary artists. So we see that but we also see the recurrence of anting-antings and incantations in Latin.
PB: so how do you—
PDF: Latin or I don’t know—
PB: —parang pig Latin na it’s distorted—
PDF: —It’s not formal Latin—
PB: —yes it’s not formal—
PDF: It’s mixed kasi it went through the translation by the local culture so maybe that is on thing that Santi wanted to express, that local culture was not a passive culture that it actively translated what it received.
PB: And also parang here is also showing I think I must have read it somewhere or he probably wrote it down that the anting-antings he used it against the foreign invaders or colonizers these American towering figures and then this is a from a scene siguro from one of his bases na if you come near the fence there will be dogs.
PDF: In a way it reminds me of ex-voto the Mexican/Latin American— you know they pray for something and then when the prayer gets heard for instance what this arm or a certain illness to be healed then so they and then if the prayer is granted they would offer the painting to the church and there is this tradition the ex-voto
PDF: Yeah. Something of votive, a votive object…
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, Can’t Go Back Home Again, 1998
PDF: This is Baguio again
PB: Yes, and that’s the gas station in front of his parents’ house. It’s owned by…. that’s why the title of this I think is “Can’t Go Back Home Again”
PDF: which was the title of our show in Vargas. The first time that the collection of the family was shown was in Vargas.
PB: Do you like this work?
PDF: I like it very much. I like the distribution of the color, controlled no? You know I mean green and red. And also…
PB: And that’s the faith healing ano of Baguio?
PDF: Ay oonga no. this is a reference to that, which I think is the start of …
PB: Kunyare they open the stomach and then take out something
PDF: Like a tumor
PB: Yeah a tumor
Artworks being discussed: Santiago Bose, Travelling Bones series
PDF: So one of the recurring themes of Santi’s work really is the um this travelling bone or the travelling bones what and this is one of the first not the first
PB: Yeah that’s a study
PDF: Yes, a study. So what was the origin of this story?
PB: he found one piece of skull or bone um near the burial grounds in Sagada. But he didn’t think it was human bone, so he got it, took it home, then thought of doing this. And then shortly after that, during that year, he started to get sick and then I don’t know I don’t remember what else happened but he said he had a series of misfortunes and somebody told him it’s because of that bone that you took from the sacred grounds you have to return it. so he returned it. And um the skill that he uses there, that he used there, is already made from made from plaster of Paris.
PDF: And this recurs no the image recurs? It can reference a migration of ethnic culture or the movement of that culture through the bones that are placed in some kind of a box.
PB: Parang luggage.
PDF: Yes, like native luggage no yeah. And so every iteration of this motif has a different set of references, you can see what mountains, this is the river. Uh I don’t know, is this what you call it? I don’t know.
PB: I don’t know, baka this is the mountain na paakyta to Baguio?
PDF: And that’s the railway a rail station?
PB: In Pangasinan.
Artworks being discussed: Santiago Bose, Mabini Blues I, 1976, Untitled, 1970, Marlboro Series, 1971, Peggy’s Cookbook, 1976
PDF: Here, I can sense from art world references of maybe Mondrian and Yves Klein so there is also that kind of reference. We can call this his—
PDF: Abstract phase, element of art edge, color fill, and at the same time there are forms that are less controllable like this one that moves out of the frame [pointing to Marlboro Series, 1971]. And then we see here a mix of references of art world conversations with abstraction, maybe minimalism, or art edge, but also a certain expressionism in the use of the paint, and then later collage, so you see this [pointing to Peggy’s Cookbook, 1976] and it could also be linked to the you know to the window portal doors that these elements of the geometric.
Pieces being discussed: Santiago Bose’s scrapbooks
PB: Yeah I remember seeing one journal where you you rode with him on the train
PDF: Yeah from Madrid to Badajoz.
PB: And he even made a sketch of you. I don’t know if it’s in this…
PDF: It’s in one of these
PB: Ah, it’s here?
PDF: No, but not on display
PDF: So did he also write fiction?
PB: Yeah, he did. This is his thesis. Um, 1968, I think. So a short story then he illustrated it. It won First Prize.
PDF: Ah really? In Manila, no?
PB: Yes, sa U.P. [Yes, in U.P. (University of the Philippines)]
PDF: So some so he also asked his peers and colleagues to contribute no? To some of his journals?
PDF: We are still working on these images. We don’t know if they are all his, I mean the ones presented here, or some are by peers.
PB: They are all thoughts, dreams, plans…
PDF: creations, life, thoughts…
PB: Everyday Santi. Because really, that’s what he wanted to be eh, just the artist, the painter-magician.
Artwork being discussed: Santiago Bose, 9-11 Return of the Comeback, 2002
PDF: This was one of the last pieces Santi was working on. And what is the reference here?
PB: So this is a take from when in camp, destruction, parang a symbol of destruction kasi this was he was trying to show yung 9-11 this is he was explaining this in the video eh, so yung 9-11 parang start ng di naman downfall of Americans.
PDF: I think he was referencing terrorism and like returning the look to the Americans that there is this life within that moment of 9-11. American colonialism in the Philippines. The reference of the Americans comes from a photograph, old photograph from Bayside.
PB: one of the night clubs in the 50s/60s
PDF: 60s in Roxas Blvd. and they are with hostesses. Maybe now we call them GROs.
PB: Guest Relations Officer mhmm
PDF: At that time, they were called hostesses, which had this negative connotation when you pronounce it as hostess.
PDF: The reference as we mentioned is Guernica by Picasso and is a commentary on wars. When the Nazis bombed a the town of Guernica in the Basque region in Spain. There was also this interview with Santi and then he where he said that if Picasso was influenced by the Africans, I might as well be influenced by the Igorots. So I think this is another layer of this painting. I mean aside from the war reference but also in terms of style no and form in relation to Picasso are some kind of influence to some extent that via the African mask and in his own practice by via the Igorot culture and then we also see some photocopy no? Photocopy, painting, and also collage and in keeping with Picasso’s reference, it is also without color because he thought war is not black and white, never black and white, it is in gray scale.
Piece discussed: Santiago Bose videos and performance art
PDF: So this is an edited compilation of some of the footage of something. So here for instance here he talks about this painting in a reference to
PB: Let me tell you that there is that sculpture that is a part of this painting except I cannot find it. but see it was just the day before he died
PDF: so the painting captures the start of the installation?
PB: I think it’s really not finished so I think he intended or parang the couple was watching the painting and the event going on
PDF: that might have been interesting no? but in this footage he doesn’t talk about it.
PB: No he doesn’t
PDF: And I think since there we also see Santi performing some magic tricks with one little girl as audience at a cocktail party I think this scene captures that playful—
PB: And where did it go? And where did that red thing go?
PDF: I think he dropped it and then this one is in reference to the faith healing practice in Baguio. One of the more well-known practitioners was Jun Labo
PB: Tsaka si… there’s another one before him.
PDF: Also from Baguio?
PB: Mm. Mas prominent before Jun Labo
PDF: So they thought that Baguio like maybe Banahaw also had this mystical energy. So but he acknowledges that practice but he is also critical of it. This kind of paranormal element because it is also linked to commodification and so on, just like the culture that can be translated in terms of commodities at some point in the light of his subjects. I think this was taken during the Baguio….
PB: One of the Baguio Arts Festivals, siguro but maybe I think either the 2nd or the 3rd
PDF: So this I mean that’s native to him. Yes, I think this is native to him. And I think this is Dulz Cuna from Tacloban.
PB: So it’s nice because these festivals brought together artists from the different parts of the country. They invited— he invited them to come and participate, and they really had fun. They enjoyed it.
PDF: And also colleagues from other parts of the world?
PB: Mhmm also.
PDF: So it was an international festival. So I think this rounds out the practice of Santi not only as a painter and magician but also as a cultural worker and organizer and it was a performance in the broadest sense possible. Not only in the context of art but also in the context of community making and world making in Baguio that healing to some extent to other parts of the country and finally to a wider world.
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