In the aftermath of a crisis, what comes next? Curated by Tony Godfrey, After the Storm: Five artists from the Philippines was an optimistic one. By August, Manila had gone back into lockdown. The Delta variant spreads inexorably. The hospitals are overflowing, the medical staff exhausted and disillusioned. Despite almost everyone wearing masks in public, plus face-shields in shops and enclosed spaces, the scarcity of vaccines has left the population vulnerable. With the developing nations hogging the vaccines, barely twenty percent of adult Filipinos have managed to get vaccinated.
This isn’t however an exhibition about Covid-19, but about how artists survived, and are surviving the pandemic. In April, the curator asked the five artists in this exhibition these questions: “What work will we make now for after the pandemic? Has the pandemic just meant a nice quiet time in the studio or some angst? Will we just carry on as we did before, or is there some change that the events of the last year and the current situation will make us take?”
Their unspoken response was to make new work for this exhibition. The artists have never stopped working: some found that they could spend longer in the studio, as suddenly there were no distractions or social obligations they had to attend to. Others could not get to their studio and had to work in their kitchen. Not surprisingly all but one of the artists have included drawings or paper works in this show. Perhaps, above all, work made during the pandemic is marked by intimacy and thoughtfulness.
And, as always, by the famed ability of the Filipinos to improvise and get by in an emergency. An ingenuity and elegance typified by the sculptures made by Juan Alcazaren: six swans each made out of a cut up plastic chair. Or by the collages of scribbles, old pencils or beach detritus gathered and composed by Christina Quisumbing Ramilo. Then, of course, there are the exceptional technical skills and sophistication of Filipino artists: witness the eloquent drawings of Elaine Roberto Navas. Thirdly, as we have come to expect from recent Filipino art, its wit and conceptual savviness, as we can see by the homely but enigmatic sculptures of Leslie de Chavez and the meditations on Classical sculpture by Jill Paz.
Above all there are individual voices, five of them here. In the time of lockdowns and travel bans, cut off from the rest of the world save by Zoom and Instagram — and in the case of Singapore based Navas her homeland — strength of character, pertinacity, and eloquence matter most.
After the Storm: Five artists from the Philippines runs from 16th October to 14th November 2021 at Mizuma Gallery. More information available here