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‘Bestias cargadas de dolor’

/ 05:05 AM November 14, 2019

There they/he stand/s, unbowed, feet slightly submerged in the middle of a field of dry, cracked mud that is bloody red in color, like the gaping wounds on the body of the beast of burden.

Behold the figure of a centaur, the half-beast, half-man in Greek mythology that has graced many a tale and the imagination of writers and artists of yore.

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Jose “Bogie” Tence Ruiz’s own allegorical rendering of the mythical centaur cries out loudly like a warning — but not of surrender. The beast on Tence Ruiz’s canvas is a carabao, the water buffalo that is our beast of burden. The Asian farmer is brother to the carabao.

The torso is that of a man, very erect and defiant despite the seven daggers on his bleeding breast. The half-man’s head is hooded in red as if he is headed for the gallows, but on it is a crown of bright flowers as if signifying victory — or is it martyrdom? His body is lean and muscular, grayish, a hue lighter than the color of the carabao, and he holds in his hand the horns of the dehorned animal of our rural landscape. Like a weapon, he holds them.

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“Bestias cargadas de dolor,” or beasts burdened with pain (oil on canvas, 50.2 x 55), is one of Tence Ruiz’s paintings included in “potahMatic,” the art exhibit of his works that opened at the Kaida Contemporary art gallery (45 Scout Madriñan, Quezon City) last Sunday, Nov. 10. It runs until Nov. 25.

Side by side “potahMatic” is the “Misteryo ng Liwanag” exhibit by eight artists whose creations are dripping with, as the exhibit name suggests, mystery. A piece that gripped my heart is that of a farmer immersed up to the chest in a lush green rice field. Within the same frame is a duplicate, except that much of the green field has been torn, corroded and become ugly, gray concrete. The title is “Palayan” or rice field (acrylic on canvas and distressed wood) by Lotsu Manes.

I wish “Bestias” and “Palayan” could hang in the corridors of power.

Suddenly Ruiz’s “Bestias” reminded me of American poet Edwin Markham’s “The Man with the Hoe” (among the poems we had to recite in school), which was inspired by artist Jean-Francois Millet’s world-famous painting. First line: “Bowed by the weight of centuries, he leans upon his hoe and gazes on the ground, the emptiness of ages in his face, and on his back the burden of the world.” I can still feel the rhythm and the cadence of it.

Ruiz’s centaur is not bowed but defiant. And there is poetry in it. The title, he told me, is borrowed from a line from Jose Rizal. Ruiz is a known and accomplished contemporary artist. His installation “Shoal” was the Philippines’ main exhibit at the Venice Beinnale in 2015.

“potahMatic” and “Misteryo ng Liwanag” are, according to the artist’s notes, a commentary on “the most impolite government the Philippines has had since 1898… a release valve, a mandatory articulation and ventilation of constipated frustration… an attempt to view the issues, the forfeiture of patrimony, the abiding martyrdom of the powerless, the roots of oligarch greed, the abandonment of the basic sectors…”

Speaking of the “abandonment of the basic sectors,” a group of farmers belonging to “Bantay Bigas” (rice watch) trooped to the House of Representatives yesterday to submit 50,000 signatures affixed to the Peoples’ Petition vs Republic Act No. 11203 or the rice liberalization law deceptively touted by the government as the “rice tariffication law” that meant flooding the country with imported rice. This journalist signed the petition. The law, passed in February, left Filipino farmers mired in penury and debt. The buying price of palay (unmilled rice) is reportedly now at its lowest at P10 per kilo!

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And now, the Philippines, once a top exporter of rice, is the top importer of rice, dislodging China — front page news in the Inquirer two days ago.

Decades ago, our Asian neighbors sent their students to the Philippines to learn about rice production. Now we are beholding an empty rice bin. I do not tire of quoting a farmer who said: “Ang magsasaka, naging magsasako.” Try translating that into English.

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TAGS: Bestias cargadas de dolor, Human Face, Jose Tence Ruiz, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
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