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Noel De Guzman's art is a social commentary that reflects a nationalistic upbringing.
Below is one of the pieces he is donating to Mother's Choice children's charity .
For love of country and for art's sake
Noel De Guzman steps up to make a bold statement
REX AGUADO HONG KONG

Noel de Guzman, one of the
most exhibited Hong Kong-
based Filipino artists, is
doing something very, very
brave in his ongoing show,
“Bayan Ko”, at the
Philippine Consulate
General in Queensway.

No, De Guzman will not be
defacing some faces of
authority or exposing
himself, as a lot of
contemporary artists in Asia
or the west seem wont to
do these days.

Instead, De Guzman will be
hoping to do something
much more daring yet so
simply obvious, especially
for an artist: textual
representation and the art of transformation.

“With my reading of unfortunate and sad news about our country, two
questions always spring to mind: “What can I do to help my country?” and
“What can I do as an artist?” The bombardment of negative news inspired
me to create works that will remind the viewers of the positive Filipino virtues
that we possess,” he wrote in an email in response to questions sent by
Filipino Globe.

Just how De Guzman achieves this is rather simple: he uses the printed
word or, rather, the painted word. And not just any painted word, but value-
loaded painted words.

“The quotations and sayings that has been with us for many generations
are slowly fading away. And through my works, I hope I can help contribute
to society by uplifting them with the words and images of my paintings.”

Instead of his well-known “finger-painting” style, de Guzman employs the
paintbrush here – with an odd dab of a finger or the hand – to literally write
“quotes” or “sayings” directly on to the canvas, coloring certain areas and
even burning the outline of the Philippine map in one of his more daring
works. Why the shift in style?

“There have been a lot of inspiration behind my new works – graffiti artists,
(American artists Jean-Michel) Basquiat and Jasper Johns, (British graffiti
artist) Banksy, Chinese calligraphy and even Egyptian hieroglyphics,” he
said, adding that he’s not totally abandoning his finger-painting style.

The references are quite familiar to those who follow the international art
scene, but what de Guzman says about his new approach, especially in the
context of Philippine art history, may raise some eyebrows.

“Socio-realist (painters and artists) have dominated Philippine art during the
’70s. I think they have painted the negative side of life. I wanted to do the
opposite. I would think my art falls in the “Positivist” or “Socio-idealist”
category, if there is such a movement.”

A spiritual man by nature, according to his friends, de Guzman is suffused
with a certain idealism that echoes the deep-religiosity of another broadly-
exhibited locally based Filipino artist, Joel Ferraris.

And yet, the two have very different approaches to art-making, with Ferraris
sometimes delving into overtly “socio-realist” themes that question
materialism, oppression and alienation, while de Guzman has been
focusing on a kind of impressionism or abstract expressionism for some
time now.

“My works are not political by nature,” he said. “I turned 40 years old last
month. A person passes a stage in his life where he thinks he has fulfilled
himself and in return has to give something back to society. I, as an
individual, would like to help society. And the “text” paintings are a way to
fulfill my individualism. Ergo, that makes my art individualist.

The only difference is that the works not only address the artist’s concerns
but also those of society’s needs as well. That makes my works serve two
masters. I don’t impose the message, but it is a way to inspire. Artists
inspire, politicians impose.”

In a way, that answer is a retort to those who may see in some of de
Guzman’s new works reminders of the slogans from the New Society, or
Bagong Lipunan, years of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and early ’
80s.

In fact, as a so-called Martial Law baby, this reviewer was a bit shocked to
see some of the Marcos jingoism transported on to the canvas and
declared art. For some people who’ve seen through the duplicity of those
Marcosian mottos, the “sayings” on de Guzman’s canvasses were a bit
jarring. But then again, maybe the artist is on to something we’re not fully
familiar with as yet.
“Sloganeering per se is not bad,” he said.

“There has been a negative connotation attached to it, because it has been
used in various propaganda by certain politicians. However, one must look
at the artist’s intention in viewing his art, and viewers must not see it in a
layman’s perspective. I think a successful artist is someone who can
change the way people think about ordinary things.

“"I was only five years old in 1972 when the phrase “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan,
disiplina ang kailangan” was introduced,” de Guzman continued.

“If you are referring to the Marcos years, the first half was glorious. And the
slogan you were referring to did somehow worked. But I don’t want to be
political here

""Again, to understand one’s art, you must understand the artist first.”

Simply put perhaps, what de Guzman may be trying to achieve is to rescue
these “slogans” from their Orwellian connotations: Transform them from
“propaganda fodder” to “nationalist values”.

“How do you measure the true wealth of a country?” he asked. “I think it is
not the wealth it has acquired nor the resources it possesses. The true
wealth of a nation lies in each and every citizen. The love of self, family and
country, in my point of view, will help us transform our country into a glorious
nation.”

Indeed, no one can question de Guzman’s “positivist” credentials. He is
active in his church, he has donated a painting to raise funds for the Boxing
Day tsunami victims, and he is about to become one of the first few Filipinos
whose work will be presented at the forthcoming charity auction of Mother’s
Choice, a Hong Kong-based group helping orphaned children find good
homes, among other missions.

“It is in the same nature of giving back to society that made me decide to
participate in the Mother’s Choice charity auction,” de Guzman said. “The
organization provides care for babies awaiting permanent homes, and for
single girls and their families facing crisis pregnancies. These issues are
quite close to my heart, as I have friends and relatives who went through
similar personal crises.

“Some may ask how an overseas Filipino worker can help his or her country
when he or she is far from the motherland,” de Guzman added. “But
remember, our national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote his first novel Noli me
Tangere in Madrid and finished the work in Paris. And Doña Agoncillo made
the Philippine flag in Hong Kong. Both became the symbol of unity and
identity for us as Filipinos. Each Filipino abroad can contribute in his or her
own way, big or small.”

Through his works and deeds, de Guzman believes he has done his share,
and will continue to do so. It will be interesting to see what next “brave” thing
he will do in the name of his art.
"Bayan Ko"  exhibit currently on display at the Philippine Consulate  
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