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Art What!: After The Storm – Five artists from the Philippines at Mizuma Gallery

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.

Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, Naglutaw sa Daplin sa Dagat, 2021, old matte board from West Gallery frame shop, rubber debris from the seashore from Martha Atienza, 95.3 × 85.1 × 7.6 cm © Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery.

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?”

Elaine Roberto Navas, Warts and All, 2021, oil bar on canvas, 121.9 × 91.4 cm © Elaine Roberto Navas, photography by Mario Renato Navas, courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery.

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.

Jill Paz, The Three Graces, 2021, acrylic on laser carved wood, 30 × 49 cm © Jill Paz, courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery.

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.

Juan Alcazaren, Monoswans (Standing swan), 2021, virgin plastic resin (cut up parts of plastic stacking chair), 65 × 45 × 65cm © Juan Alcazaren, courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery.

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.

Leslie de Chavez, The Rehearsal in Denial, 2021, oil, gold leaf, and decal on acid-free paper, set of 16 panels (38.1 x 50.8 cm each) © Leslie de Chavez, courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery.

After the Storm: Five artists from the Philippines runs from 16th October to 14th November 2021 at Mizuma Gallery. More information available here

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