2016/04/18

Nunelucio Alvarado's Continued Relevance


Quickly and without hesitation, Nunelucio Alvarado responded with a resounding "yes" when asked "Sa palagay mo, maaabutan mo 'yung tagumpay na sinasabi ng mga rebolusyonaryo?" (Do you think you'd still be here by the time the success of the armed agrarian revolution actually comes?) Despite his age, his political and artistic stand remains youthful and vibrant, like the works that comprise his latest one-person exhibition Pretty Pretty, Pity Pity.

Alvarado's latest works on paper are familiar with those who experienced and survived the most horrible chapter of contemporary Filipino history, the Martial Law years. The seasoned activist gazing at the artist's "Tatay Series" (9.5 x 15 inches, colored pen on paper) for instance, might be reminded of the struggle of sugarcane workers in Bacolod and of how art critic Alice Guillermo (2001) described Alvarado's rendition of the common Filipino, particularly the sakada: "...as squat and angular figures, with well-articulated muscles to show their closeness with the earth as well as their strength in production. He also uses vivid colors to enhance the sense of vitality and energy, while at the same time conveying intense emotion." On the other hand, whether it was Alvarado's "Nanay Series" (9.5 x 15 inches, colored pen on paper) or the "Nawong Series" (8.5 x 11 inches, colored pen on paper) being referred to, the cynic would perhaps notice that there's really nothing "latest" about the artist's portrayal of the marginalized Filipino, that it has always been the same: "as squat and angular figures, with well-articulated muscles..." But how about the millennial? What would today's social media savvy youth say about Alvarado's latest visual articulation? Would today's generation of spectators agree on the idea that a Nunelucio Alvarado work is still relevant? Or would they think it's passe?

Pretty Pretty, Pity Pity's subject matter is actually what makes Nunelucio Alvarado's work painfully relevant. In Alvarado's "Tatay Series," for instance, the farmer firmly holds an espading or cane knife with both hands. The way this farmer is portrayed is strikingly similar to how he is depicted in Alvarado's 1986 painting "Tunok sa Dahon." An exact version of the farmer is also present in Alvarado's 2010 painting "Karga Tapas." What does this tell us? Has the artist run out of ideas?

part of Nunelucio Alvarado's "Tatay Series" (2016)

The recurrence of the espading-carrying sakada in Alvarado's works signifies the lack of development in the sector of agriculture in the Philippines. In a country where the means of production remain inferior and ancient, and farmers are killed gradually by state neglect or instantly by gunshot, it is not surprising at all why an artist like Alvarado would continue to portray farmers, fisherfolks, and the rest of the poor the same way he did thirty years ago. Nothing much has changed in the condition of many farmers in the countryside. They still deal with the same socio-economic issues that struck them years and years ago. They still deal with the same irony that their forefathers experienced--hunger, poverty, and landlessness. And this is why Alvarado continues to bring the people's plight to our attention, almost like an old man who constantly reminds his grandchildren about how dreadful this semi-feudal, neocolonial society has always been. It certainly is not surprising to note that Alvarado never ceased to talk about the same damn issue over and over again.

It is the constancy in subject matter that keeps Nunelucio Alvarado's work youthful, vibrant, and most of all, relevant. His subject matter reverberates as much as the latest bulletin about the silenced Kidapawan farmers does. Alvarado's work is not like the high-powered guns used to shut the farmers down. It certainly cannot fire and send a bullet straight to your gut but it will, nonetheless. Overall, through his most recent works on paper, an older and wiser Alvarado persistently presents to us what the nightly news anchor, the daily Twitter trend list, and the endless Facebook news feed fail to make us see.

Nunelucio Alvarado's "Karga Tapas" (2010)

Nunelucio Alvarado's "Tunok sa Dahon" (1986)