Pio Abad employs strategies of appropriation to reveal the social and political implications of objects usually consigned to the sidelines of history. Using inexpensive reproduction techniques that contrast with the opulent origins of the objects he replicates, his recent work has drawn attention to the role that certain artefacts have played or been made to perform in the recent history of the Philippines. Continuing this line of enquiry, Some Are Smarter Than Others looks at the cultural legacy of former Filipino dictators Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos: from the post-colonial mythology they promoted in public to the extravagant collections they surreptitiously amassed during their years in power.
The exhibition comprises newly commissioned sculpture, photographs and printed textiles that reference fine and decorative art objects owned or commissioned by the Marcoses during their rule, such as photographs of prized Georgian silverware appropriated from a 1991 Christie’s auction catalogue or cheap, bamboo-framed canvas prints of under-par paintings from the Italian Renaissance period. Depicting the paternal and maternal figureheads of the Marcoses ‘new society’, an imposing, up-scaled replica of an original statuette depicts the primordial Filipino couple Malakas (the strong one) and Maganda (the beautiful one), icons that Ferdinand and Imelda often and immodestly used to represent themselves. Bringing together these artworks-cum-artefacts, Abad reveals the inconsistency of their ideologies and the irony of the Baroque fantasy they sought to cultivate: an irony driven home further by a large, red flag adorned with a Soviet-style hammer and sickle, in which the hammer representing the workers has been replaced by an auction gavel.
A text written by the artist further places the Marcoses lavish lifestyle and subsequent exile in context, charting the repercussions that their narcissistic approach to government had for the post-authoritarian era attempts at agricultural reform. Recounting the ups and downs of this period in an appropriately sensationalist fashion, Abad reveals how their extravagant taste served to legitimate their celebrity and how the creole iconography that they promoted in public murals and reliefs throughout Manila – a wild combination of traditional Filipino folklore, Hollywood archetypes and classical European cultural heritage – helped them appear anti-communist enough for the West to tolerate their version of democratic authoritarianism for two decades.
Drawing these and other associations between the various tropes of civilisation championed by the Marcoses – silverware, Old masters, statues and flags – Abad identifies how their civility was carefully choreographed and performed in ways that overshadowed many less triumphant histories and facts, from amusing anecdotes to far graver social ills.
*The title of the exhibition, the imagery of the octopus and the cover of the booklet are taken from Some are Smarter than Others: The History of Marcos’ Crony Capitalism by Ricardo Manapat, 1991. The holders of the copyright have given permission for Gasworks to use this material. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the permission of the copyright holder.
Some Are Smarter Than Others is the fifth and final exhibition of The Civilising Process, a year-long programme of exhibitions and events at Gasworks inspired by German sociologist Norbert Elias’s eponymous 1939 book, which looks at the development of the tastes, manners and sensibilities of Western Europeans since the Middle Ages. From October 2013 Gasworks has been working with invited artists to tackle a wide range of issues raised by this book in an attempt to understand their relevance for contemporary debates and practices.
Some are Smarter Than Others is presented in partnership with Abad’s solo exhibition The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, Manila, which runs from 28 August to 30 September 2014.
This exhibition is made possible with the generous support of Mercedes Zobel
Thanks to Silverlens Gallery