Titled “Balik-tanaw: Philippine Images Beyond Nostalgia,” the exhibit showcases the artwork of Crispin Agno, Isidro Ancheta, Gabriel Custodio, Oscar Navarro and Serafin Serna. All artists belonged to the so-called Conservative School, which favored idealized and romantic depictions of Philippine scenes and landscapes, going against the Modernist movement that came into Philippine art in the early 1920s.
“Evening Meal,” 1955, by Gabriel Custodio
The artists on display won several honors in various national and international exhibitions during their time. Among them, Navarro bagged the first prize of the Art Association of the Philippines exhibitions in 1954 and 1955. Custodio won the second place in the same contest for the same years. Serna likewise had several AAP awards. In 1964, he was commissioned by the Philippine government to decorate its Pavilion at the New York World Fair. Ancheta, a contemporary of Fernando Amorsolo, was represented with eight paintings in the Philippine Section at the St. Louis Universal Exposition in 1904. One painting, “A Victim of War,” received an Honorable Mention.
Their artworks are in the permanent collection of various museums, including the National Museum of the Philippines, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Ayala Museum, Lopez Museum, Yuchengco Museum and the Jorge Vargas Collection of the University of the Philippines.
The pieces in the Chicago exhibit were assembled from various private sources across the United States. Most were brought over by Americans who lived or visited the Philippines immediately before and after World War II.
“Island Girl,” 1952, by Ben Alano
Depicting idyllic landscapes, wistful portraits and scenes of everyday life, these paintings continued the tradition defined earlier by Filipino masters Fabian de la Rosa and Amorsolo. For a long time in the development of Philippine art, such dreamy, idealized representations—what some critics called “naïve”—defined the ethos and sensibility not only of Philippine art but of being Filipino.
Eventually they lost their grounding in the mid-1960s, with sweeping social and political developments that would lead to martial law in the 1970s and the commercialization of the genre in the 1980s.
“Twilight Through the Trees,” 1954, by Oscar Navarro
The first such retrospective in Chicago, the exhibit challenges the viewers to look at the artworks beyond being decorative pieces and reconsider their contribution to the formation of Philippine imagery and identity.
The exhibit is presented by the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago in observance of the 111th year of Philippine Independence. Victor Velasco serves as exhibit curator, with the assistance of Willi Red Buhay, director for Arts and Culture of the Rizal Heritage Center. The center is located at 1332 Irving Park Avenue, Chicago, IL.