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Pinoy sentimentality and Islamic ideas
Exhibit showcases a facet of multi-talented Jun Cañete
REX AGUADO HONG KONG

Veteran Hong Kong gallery
owner Karin Weber
probably sums it up in a
single but doubly significant
sentence: “The main
problem of Philippine art,
as with the entire country, is
one of image.”

The voice and vision behind
the eponymous gallery in
Central’s Aberdeen Street
believes that the
Philippines’ myriad
problems, from politics to
Jun Cañete  is at
home with Islamic
art  (above).
Aikea-Guinea (left) is
the flagship of the
exhibit.
man-made disasters, have hijacked both national and global attention from
its formidable ranks of artists and cultural warriors.

In a way, Weber has been waging her own slight but sustained campaign
for Philippine art by generously opening her gallery’s doors to Filipino
artists both in Hong Kong and in the Philippines.

This month, she fired another salvo by hosting an exhibition of works by
Filipino artist Jun Cañete in a move that flags if not a fresh phase then
definitely a new face in the local Philippine art scene.

In his show, Aikea-Guinea: Studies In Post-Arabesque Composition,
Cañete joins the abstractionist ranks of local Filipino artists Noel de
Guzman, Jun Cambel, Manuel Rubio and, to some extent, Ben Guia in
exploring non-figurative painting. But the similarity ends there, for Cañete
introduces something different; roughly put, it’s painting by – and with –
numbers.  

“There is nothing new to using non-objective form to do composition, but I
used these geometrical objects with compositional approach derived from
the principles of Islamic decorative art or what is commonly known as
arabesque,” he said.

If Cañete talks with an academic and technical accent, that’s largely due to
his background as a computer programmer, interactive designer and new-
media developer.

At the same time, his current focus on the arabesque and its variants is
apparently rooted in his philosophy and theology training in university, and
his stint as a photojournalist in the Philippines in the late 1980s.
He now manages a laboratory and studio facility he himself designed for
teaching digital film production and editing to language and
communications students at the City University of Hong Kong.

As an independent media producer for the past four or five years, he has
directed, shot, edited and scored his own documentaries.
Embracing the Pillars, his experimental film on converts to Islam, was an
entry in the last Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. He and
his wife, photojournalist Corazon, are currently working on two independent
films.

“I call my compositional approach post-arabesque to acknowledge my debt
to Islamic decorative art principles, but at the same time, it also deviates
from the traditional form in great ways due to the possibilities available
through the use of new digital imaging techniques,” Cañete said.

Some people may find it hard identifying a strain of “Filipinoness” in Cañete’
s digital arabesque works, which are printed on paper or canvas using
archival ink, giving them a certain Old Masters glow and patina.

The artist himself agrees that race or ethnicity was hardly an issue here.  
“I have to be honest, but there is very little ‘Filipino-esque’ about this
exhibition at all, except that I am a Pinoy artist and I happen to name three of
the art pieces with Maranao words,” he said. Still, the explosion of colors is
definitely of tropical origin. And the organic forms that swirl and sway talk of
the fecundity of rainforests and warm-water reefs.

“On one level, these are non-objective visual impressions of undulating
surface patterns and shimmering light, of sea creatures and island life
evoking, the persistent memory of water,” Cañete added. “On another level,
they are a personal tribute to what is epic and beautiful from a civilization
that often appears paradoxical and enigmatic to most outsiders.

“It’s an attempt at contributing and drawing attention to the ongoing global
efforts for cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.”
In a way, Cañete’s works speak of a certain evolution, if not mutation,
among Filipino expatriate artists simply due to the fact that the motherland
is an ocean or a continent away.

“I guess we, as expatriate artists here, have to come on our own,
independent of the wider Philippine art scene back home,” he said.

“Some of us developed our art in the environment and social context of this
multicultural and increasingly globalised metropolis we have adopted as
our home. This is what defines us now as artists.”
ARABESQUE TOUCHES A TRIBUTE TO CROSS-CULTURAL INFLUENCES
c o m m u n i t i e s
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