Symbolism, Culture, and Politics in Aesthetics
(A conversation with multidisciplinary artist and writer Danny Castillones Sillada)
By Angelita Porteo, Manila Bulletin
Menstrual Period in Political History ,2005, by Danny Castillones Sillada
Angelita Porteo: “Menstrual Period in Political History” is your most “controversial” mixed media artwork in 2005. What is the parallelism of “Politics” and “Menstrual Period” and how does it relate to Philippine politics and culture?
Danny C. Sillada: “Menstrual Period in Political History” is a mixed media on metamorphic rock or slate, with painted and carved vaginal form at the center. The visual narrative of the artwork is not vociferous with bleak background in contrast to the vibrant colors of my typical paintings. However, I never expected that its inconspicuous presence along with the title would become controversial in 2005.
The parallelism of “Politics” and “Menstrual Period” is, obviously, the cyclical political turmoil in our country, which is periodic since the Marcos time up to the Arroyo regime.
Like a woman’s menstrual period, Philippines politics has its own menstrual cycle in our country in the form of corruption, economic instability, violation of human rights, the involuntary disappearances of civilians, the century-old war in Mindanao, insurgency, poverty, and inadequacy of political leaders to address socio-economic and political problems in our society, to name a few.
Every time we elect a new president, we thought that he or she would make a difference in our country. Only to find ourselves frustrated in the end, because they only serve themselves (puera delos buenos), i.e., their families, cohorts, businessmen who cuddled them, and their political parties. And as I said in an interview by a South African writer, web developer, and strategist: ‘Social justice and compassion for humanity are alien to Filipino politicians, they are like ‘vultures’ that feast and take advantage on the credulity of the masses.’
Even the present government that I thought would address poverty, human rights violation, and corruption in the country has an inclination to favor the elite and cohorts in politics rather than the Filipino people in general. The “Menstrual Period in Political History,” as I saw it now, is imminent if the president won’t exercise his strong political will. So far, I could not see any substantial changes yet; actually, I already stopped seeing anything because it would only give me or us a false hope.
Our only hope is the next generation of politicians to see the concrete needs in our society, allowing us (the people) to define the true essence of democracy that is based on social justice, partnership in governance, and respect for human life and environment. It will take two to three more decades to pass for Filipino politicians to grow and become human (with compassionate and altruistic concern for Filipino people, particularly the poor).
Angelita Porteo: Is symbolism indispensable in your art?
Danny C. Sillada: Symbolism is the heart of my aesthetics; it magnifies my thoughts and feelings, and the messages that I wanted to convey to the viewers.
Essentially, any form of art is a symbolic representation of culture and society. Symbolism, in aesthetics, is a vehicle to reveal the Truth (good or bad) about the concrete condition of a historical society. From the moment a particular work of art is exhibited in public place, whatever the perception or interpretation of the viewers, the artist has no more control of it. Even if an artist did not intend to address, in a derisive manner, his or her work to any social or political issues, once a piece of art is disclosed to the society, it becomes a living symbol of social and cultural history.
The “Menstrual Period in Political History,” for instance, may just be a mere symbol of vaginal form; however, it possesses the power to provoke the consciousness of the viewers in the context of social and political realities of our society. As an artist, I never expected that such symbolic element would stir mass media attention and some supporters of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo more than half a decade ago.
Symbolism, therefore, in the context of aesthetics, has the power on its own to affect, influence, or transform the human perception; it will either irritate or inspire the viewers.
Angelita Porteo: How did you appropriate your culture or the place where you grew up with into your works? Is it connected to your painting, music, poetry, philosophical writings, or performance art?
Danny C. Sillada: Yes, it is, because I believe that an artist cannot create something that is outside the realms of his or her experience.
Like for instance, I write, compose and perform ethnic songs, which are reflective of my native roots in Mindanao. I use biomorphic forms in my painting with vibrant colors alluding to the pristine mountains and forests in my hometown. As a thinker, I write philosophical essays and reflections based on my academic training and perceptions of realities as a Mindanaoan.
Aesthetics as a revelation of Truth is supposed to address the cultural and social conditions of the artist and his or her society. An art that is not rooted in one’s culture or history is a farcical art that has no bearing of one’s identity. Hence, I can say that my roots and culture have played an important role in my works; they gave a soul to my art and my identity as an artist.
Angelita Porteo: How do you view surrealism?
Danny C. Sillada: Surrealism, as it started in France in the early 1920s by André Breton, emanates from anarchic perspective, using the subconscious (Freud’s psychoanalytic theory) and the automatist technique in art making. It started not as a mere artistic movement, but as antithesis, which is revolutionary in nature, against the ugly realities of World War I and the status quo of bourgeois during that era.
In my own perspective, surrealism represents human subconscious, thoughts, dreams, and memories. When they are translated into art, they become dream-like elements laden with symbols, arranged and juxtaposed in a rational manner.
Surrealism today, in general, is an aesthetic style that addresses the shifting of reality in our post po-mo society through varied artistic practices and mediums, i.e., painting and installation art, graphic and digital art, film, cartoons and anime, photography, music, literary, performing arts, and even in commercial advertisements on the internet, print media, and the television.
Most often, the surrealistic elements are cryptically encoded in the artworks, which are almost undecipherable by the viewers. At other times, they are just a mere travesty of forms and figures that do not mean anything, just a spectacular visual narrative to impress or shock the viewers.
Angelita Porteo: Are you always conscious of forms and structures in your work or is it free-flowing coming from your subconscious?
Danny C. Sillada: Any artistic activity is a conscious activity, including surrealism; otherwise, no artist can accomplish anything if one is not conscious of one’s theme or subject.
The consciousness, however, in surrealism, is not confined to literal interpretation, but dependent on the progression of thoughts, feelings, and memories during the creative process. Unlike the realistic painting, the subject is given, which has a realistic representation, e.g., tree, flower, landscape, and human figure. Surrealism, on the other hand, comes from the inner thoughts and feelings of the artist, using empirical images to signify something in a symbolic manner, e.g., a lollipop to signify a tree, a flower to signify a female’s sex organ, or a bent steel-bar to signify human figure.
Hence, I can say that my creative process, as a surrealist, is between conscious and unconscious, rational and irrational, literal and symbolic, empirical and metaphysical. The derivation of my art, although they embody abstract and realistic elements, they come from my subconscious and conscious thoughts rather than purely empirical encounter. It is like painting one’s dream or writing poetry using metaphors and allegories.
Angelita Porteo: When did you start your artistic career and how?
Danny C. Sillada: I started as a full time painter in the latter part of my life at the age of thirty after resigning as a young executive in the corporate world. But as an artist, per se, I started at the age of seven; I was already earning from drawing and painting up to my high school years in my hometown.
After graduating from high school in 1982, I entered the seminary to become a priest, and, for ten long years, I hurdled seminary formation and academic studies in Philosophy, English Literature, Theology, and Pastoral Management. However, in 1992, six months before my conferment to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, I underwent personal crisis and spiritual vacuity in my vocation. I had to defer my diaconal ordination in order to discern further before committing myself completely to the Church.
At that time, I was assigned as Assistant Prefect of Discipline in San Carlos Seminary, Juniorate Department, and taught Introduction to Sacred Scripture in College Department. Subsequently, I also took my MBA at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business in Makati City. After my term in San Carlos Seminary as one of the Formators, I left and stayed in the church parish for a while.
In early 1993, I was hired in an HMO company in Makati upon the recommendation of the late Jaime Cardinal L. Sin, D.D., then Archbishop of Manila, to the owner of the company.
For three years, I built my career path in the corporate and almost every six months, since I started as a humble staff of an HMO Marketing and Corporate Relations Office, I was promoted to higher positions. During this time, I already started painting on weekends after office hours.
Then, in December 1995, I decided to resign from my job despite a promising corporate career to become a full time painter. I realized, then, that my real calling was in the art world, and going back to the Church was no longer my option.
Since then, up to the present, I explored my art not only in painting but also in poetry, songwriting, composing and performing tribal music, performance art, installation art, photography, short film and documentary, creative writing both in philosophy and literary, and critiquing and writing on art, film, literature, philosophy, and culture for Manila Bulletin.
Angelita Porteo: How do you relate your art from your personality and private life? Is it all connected with your life?
Danny C. Sillada: Of course, it is all connected; it is like the air that I breathe. My art is the only proof of my existence, the grounding of my being. Without it, my life would have been bland and boring.
How to cite this article:
Porteo, Angelita. “Symbolism, Culture, and Politics (A conversation with multidisciplinary artist and writer Danny Castillones Sillada).” Manila Bulletin (Manila) 14 February 2011: E1-2. Print.
Online link to Manila Bulletin: http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/304088/symbolism-culture-and-politics-aesthetics