Blanc Gallery, Quezon City
Where a perimeter ends and where it begins are places that expose the vulnerability of a domain. In “Fragile Borders”, Renz Baluyot expands his probe on the physical and invisible markers that define the places and terrains we occupy; from the barriers that border our homes to the jurisdiction exercised by the state in protecting our islands, waters, reefs, lands, and everything else comprising our national territory. Departing from his recent solo exhibition,“END” (2018), where the problematic relationship between China and the Philippines under the Duterte regime was partially explored, Baluyot continues to dissect the differing junctures where the former enforces its dominance by asserting its control and by exercising soft power in developing countries like the Philippines. As the administration’s financier of its “Build, Build, Build” projects, China’s current hold of the Malacañang Palace goes beyond diplomacy and foreign aid.
In this show, large paintings that carry images of dilapidated and rusty gates signify decaying structures of security as our government refuses to enforce the ruling in an arbitration case1, which favored the Philippines declaring that there is no legal basis to China’s territorial claim drawn from their Nine-Dash Line2. Baluyot’s demonstration of how China continues to impose their presence by building military infrastructures amid international criticism is observed in “Hydra”, where Chinese ink is poured and eventually spilled over the celadon urns placed on top of wood planks shaped in the form of the West Philippine Sea.
However, what is striking in this exhibition is Baluyot’s scrutiny of how the people position themselves in the middle of this debacle as symbolized by their ghostly images in “Lost Chimera” and “Stigmata”. Despite failures in resolving economic and corruption issues, Duterte’s popularity remains high. His election slogan, “Tapang at Malasakit” (Courage and Compassion), appealed to millions of Filipinos living in poverty. Somehow, his brand of populism resonates among a population raised in the clutches of idols and self-proclaimed liberators; exploiting and tapping into the emotion of the marginalized sectors. What is understated is the fact that Duterte has his own form of elitism: one that slowly tramples on human rights while elevating the national debt by signing loans with higher interest rates. It also shows in economic policies, which allow importation of Chinese laborers even if unemployment rate remains a little over five percent this year, with underemployment rate at 15.6%. This shift creates a tension between the local and Chinese workers; the people pitted against each other by their governments while their leaders enjoy the luxury of friendship and political gain.
Although what remains interesting is how the Philippine Constitution defines Sovereignty as something that “resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them”, it makes one wonder about the stability of this sovereignty, which emerges from people who are engrossed in an illusion of change as they continue to live at the mercy of oppressors, old and new.
1 Philippines v. China (PCA case number 2013–19), also known as the South China Sea Arbitration, was an arbitration case brought by the Republic of the Philippines
against the People's Republic of China under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
2 A vague demarcation line used by the People's Republic of China to claim parts of the South China Sea, stating its historical basis.
Fragile Borders (2019)
Installation view at Blanc Gallery
Photos by Karl Angay