Caloy Gernale's Exploration of 'Class Love'

Ang pag-ibig sa kauri ay ang pag-ibig na sumisibol sa makauring pagsapol sa kalagayan ng lipunang kinabibilangan ng isang uri, sa pinagmumulan ng pang-aapi at pagsasamantala ng uri sa kapwa uri… Pag-ibig na malalim na hinuhugot sa sariling kapasyahang mag-alay ng panahon, kakayanan at buhay para sa mithing paglaya ng uri mula sa pang-aapi at pagsasamantala.

-Ka Roja Banua
Spokesperson, NDF Bicol

What is the foundation of the long-lasting ‘marriage’ between imperialism and feudalism, state-imposed violence and bureaucrat capitalism, class and struggle? Is it love? If so, what kind? For Caloy Gernale, it is ‘class love.’

According to the National Democratic Front’s “Guidelines and Rules on Marriage inside the Party,” (April 1998), ‘class love,’ in the context of a party-officiated marriage, pertains to the party member’s initiative to prioritize his/her “commitment and promotion of revolutionary objectives” over his/her personal desires. This is the kind of love advocated within the current revolutionary movement in the Philippines. One’s personal feelings (‘sex love’) should be subordinate to his/her love for the proletariat (‘class love’). But what Caloy Gernale understands is that ‘class love’ is also what reinforces the marital and material union between (individuals and) institutions that belong to the same exploitative class. This is what Gernale intends to explore in a richer, more detailed one-person exhibition titled You Are Cordially Invited.

Using scenes and objects that are often associated with marriage and/or weddings, Caloy Gernale assembles a cohesive demonstration of a self-serving class-based union. He also uses marriage and/or weddings as the central motif that binds all six works into one intelligible exhibition.

The triptych “Members of the Entourage” (36 in. x 144 in.) is clearly the artist’s surreal-allegorical take on the staple wedding march. In this work, the wedding march becomes an effective metaphor that reminds the viewer of violent demolitions happening in many underprivileged urban sites. He distorts this classic wedding scene by portraying the bride, the groom, and the rest of the entourage as animorph-like creatures—a vulture, a bald eagle, a monkey, a dog, and an alligator walking like homo sapiens. Led by a smoke-belching bulldozer, these creatures (signifying the landlord class and comprador big bourgeoisie) walk on a deep-red colored rug. The smoke expelled by the powerful tractor turns into little flowers and what seems to be blood flowing right underneath transforms into a long red carpet.

This red carpet is also present in “On the Eve of the Wedding” (84 in. x 60 in.), an enormous portrait showing what seems to be either the guest of honor or the principal sponsor of Gernale’s allegorical wedding. It features a Filipiniana-clad royalty (or perhaps a pageant queen) in the forefront of an overwhelming swarm of rats, coming out of a tiltrotor aircraft commonly used in military exercises. On the body of the tiltrotor, the numbers 51, 98, and 14 appear. The number 51 refers to the year the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines was signed. The number 98 pertains to the year the Philippines and the United States of America entered into Visiting Forces Agreement. And finally, the number 14 clearly indicates the year when the ten-year military agreement known as Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between these two countries was inked.

The act of signing an agreement is an event which Caloy Gernale chooses to depict in “Betrothal” (48 in. x 60 in.). Staged against Carlos “Botong” Francisco’s renowned Katipunan mural, the painting features a couple of beasts—one with the face of a baboon and the other with a vulture’s head—in their “Amerikana” (business suit) as they seem to exchange polite remarks after inscribing their signatures on some document. They shake hands as if to officially seal the long-term deal. This act should be reminiscent of a pre-colonial Filipino ritual called “pamamanhikan,” wherein two parties (the would-be bride’s and the would-be groom’s) meet in order promise each other a successful marriage.

There’s another motif that the artist intends to employ—in all his six works, the use of the color red cannot be dismissed. In one work, it is just a splatter, a tiny spot almost invisible. In another, the color red comes in the form of a thick woven fabric which may seem mundane but could also be read as a domineering element that indicates an important event in contemporary Philippines, an event anticipated both by the contemporary revolutionaries in the countryside and their adversaries. That the color red symbolizes love, passion, courage, or perhaps, anger can easily be said. But in Caloy Gernale’s work, it may also be argued that the color red is actually a foreshadowing of an inevitably bloody transformation that will take place in the future—a transformation also motivated by ‘class love.’