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Apr 16, 2017
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Ever wonder what faith must be like for them?

No doubt, their open display of sweaty and rabid devotion, love, and sacrifice is as legendary as the main figure they're honoring in this feast: the Black Nazarene.

Manila resident and artist Auggie Fontanilla has always been curious about this religious spectacle. A self-confessed lapsed Catholic, he doesn't exactly say why he was drawn to these devotees' passion for the Black Nazarene. Or why, despite his strained relationship with Catholicism, he has been religiously sketching for years now various images of Christ for a personal project he calls Manila Kristos.

"Sometimes, ginagamit ko yung mga drawings ko para sa mga tropa na mahilig magpagawa ng back patch sa mga jackets," he explains. "Hindi siya all-out for commerce. Para sa mga gusto lang magpa-customize ng jacket."

This project would provide the impetus for his fourth one-man exhibit, Kristo y Kristos, which opened last March 22 and will run until April 30 at Pasilyo Edades (4F Hallway Gallery), CCP Main Theater Building

When he was preparing for the show, the former magazine art director and currently one-third of the three-man artist collective behind THE Clothing in Cubao Expo interviewed Black Nazarene devotees—who make a living selling religious images, rosaries, prayer books, and amulets just outside Quiapo Church—to find out what makes them tick.

According to Auggie, Kristo y Kristos is equal parts an examination and a reflection on the meaning of faith and its interplay with the struggles that color our day. Inspired by the insights he had gained during his immersion, Auggie produced 28 paintings for the show that celebrates the Christ of the Streets—and the polyptych comprised of 10 paintings no doubt is the collection's star.

This hypnotic work accentuates his subjects' personal relationship with their faith. It's a gutsy representation of what it means to be faithful, made more striking by Auggie's signature infusion of classic Americana tattoo art and Filipino aesthetics.

"Isa sa mga tanong ko sa kanilaano o sino si Kristo para sa kanila," Auggie says. "Then I incorporated yung mga imagery na pakiramdam ko pasok sa sinasabi nila. Kunyari dun sa isang image, nagdagdag ako ng ahas kasi sa tattooing, ang ahas can be a representation of death or sex. So may struggle pa rin. Pinasukan ko lang imagery na pakiramdam ko pasok dun sa pananaw nila at sa naiisip kong life struggles ng mga Kristo ng lansangan."

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It may be unsettling for some to see an image, for example, of a snake slithering up from one's arm to the hand and juxtaposed with the Pinoy word for industriousness that's set in big bold red. But faith, as gleaned not just from this piece, can either be deepened or blemished depending on how one responds to the trials he faces. Despite the conflicts and hardships, though, Auggie is convinced believers of the Black Nazarene will always choose to solidify their faith in God. He might not have said it directly, but that's the very essence of Easter he's talking about right there. 

How devout a Catholic were you? 

Nung bata pa ako, I go to church every day. Nagsakristan din ako, yung nanay at tatay ko laman ng simbahan, part ng charismatic organization. Nakalakihan ko yung ganung buhay. Di naman sa saradong Katoliko kami. Pero around four years ago, natanong ko sa sarili ko, "Ano ba'tong pananalig ko?" Dahil sa maraming gulo na involved ang simbahan, parang nawala yung faith ko sa church. Ang hindi lang nawala sa akin, yung paniniwala ko sa Higher Being. 

What changed?

Like I said, naniniwala pa rin ako sa Higher Being, pero di na ako nagsisimba. Sorry ha, di na rin ako nagdarasaldati nag-ro-rosary pa nga ako. Hindi ko alam kung ba't umabot dun. Pwede ko bang isisi yun dahil sa dami ng aking ginagawaAng impression ko lang, nakikita mo kamag-anak mo o kaibigan mo, simba nga nang simba pero pag labas naman ng simbahan, nagmumura. Parang ang ipokrito lang para sa akin

Was the show a way for you to understand your, shall we say, crisis in faith? 

Hindi namanItong Kristo y Kristos matagal ko ng concept. I submitted it when I was applying for artist residencies sa Japan, sa London before. Nakapaloob dito yung style ko na Americana tattoo fusion with religious imagery, Filipino aesthetics, etc. After di makapasok sa ibang bansa, nag-apply ako sa Cultural Center of the Philippines nung nagka-open call sila last year.

Yung topic ko mas pasok sa Pilipinas [kaya rin siguro natanggap sa CCP]. Umikot ako sa Quiapo for my immersion. Target ko talaga yung mga deboto o panatiko ng Black Nazarene. Yung mga nagtitinda ng kandila, ng mga religious images, anting-anting, etc. Kristo y Kristos kasi sila yung maituturing na mga Kristo ng lansangan. I wanted to learn kung bakit ganun kalakas ang paniniwala at faith nila to the point na parang panatiko na. Kung ano yung nakuha ko sa interview, yung ang na-translate ko into paintings na kung saan pasok pa rin sa aesthetics ko.

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And two of most striking pieces in the collection are the paintings of Christ, viewed from the front and back. What did you want to say through these paintings?

Dalawang malaking paintings yun na ginawa koyung isa front body, yung isa nakatalikod na parang naka-body suit ng tattoos. Yung isang malaking imahe shows the whole body parang nakahiga, frontal view yun. It's made up of 10 other paintings (or tattoos) na nagko-correspond sa different parts of the body, then dun ko pinasok yung influence ng Americana tattoos and Pinoy aesthetics na gusto ko. The paintings included in the front view piece represent a value connected to a body part—like yung sa kamay, tungkol sa hardwork or labor. Yung sa chest, parang they breathe life sa mga pribado mong thoughts, yung mga bagay na personal sa'yoParang pag tumitingin ka sa tao. Yung harapan niya, yung mga nakikita mo sa kanya at first glance, dun nabubuo yung pananaw mo tungkol sa kanya.  

Yung back view naman kaya siya mukhang bodysuit ng tattoo kasi pwede i-represent nun kung sa pakiramdam mo ay ginagabayan ka Niya or kung tinalikuran mo na ba si Kristo. So gusto ko lang mapakita yung faith ng isang tao, base sa personal kong paniniwala, plus yung insights na nakuha ko sa ibang tao na araw-araw ay nasa may simbahan.

What have you learned about faith from interviewing Black Nazarene devotees?

May pagka-pare-pareho insights nila. Yung tipong humihiling sila sa Diyos hindi para yumaman but para sa magkaroon sila ng good health, maging safe ang pamilya nila kontra sa lahat. Yung iba naman are there to seek forgiveness, dahil magulo sila nung kabataan nila at na-involve sa riot, mga ganun. So napaka-personal nung tingin nila sa pananalig nila

Meron din dun, dating Jehovah’s Witness. Pero naging Katoliko uli kasi nadala ng tradisyon o dahil yun ang nakasanayan, o dahil may pwedeng pagkakitaan. Meron dun na hindi nagpa-interview pero nakadamit ng pang-deboto. Sabi ko, “Ate, interview-hin kita.” Sagot niya, “Iglesia ni Kristo ako e." Nagtitinda siya ng kandila dun dahil nakita niya yung business side ng faith.

What other characteristics of the Pinoy faithful have you discovered?

Para sa kanila, si Kristo, nandyan lang Siya palagi. Naniniwala sila ng kapag wala kang ginagawang masama sa kapwa, meron kaukulang blessing na babalik sa'yo na hindi mo ini-expect. Traditional. Wag ka manakit ng kapwa, may karma. 

Did you somehow rediscover your faith through the project? Have you been praying lately? 

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Ganito pa rin ako. Drawing lang nang drawing. Ganun naman ako, drawing lang every day. Katulad nung 2014 show ko, bago mangyari yun, gumawa lang ako ng isang libro, Pag-asa Project. Daily, kinailangan ko lang mag-drawing ng tattoo na drawing bata. As is lang, walang constraint na nagsasabi na ito dapat ang hitsura ng mga bata. Hindi naman ako nagpapadala sa kung ano uso, sa kung ano yung maganda na idinidikta ng society. Ang nakakatuwa, after nung project na yun, binigyan ako ng project na mag-show ng Pablo Galleries. So naisip ko, meron pala akong makukuha eventually mula sa isang endeavor na tuluy-tuloy ko lang ginagawa. Basta I’ll do my own shit, tuluy-tuloy lang, baka magka-pay off somehow. In other words, struggling artist. Hindi ba dati, nag-quit ako sa trabahong 9-5? Nandito na ako sa buhay-struggling. May faith ako sa sarili ko.

Where, aside from a Higher Being, is that faith coming from? 

Basta ako tuluy-tuloy sa paniniwala ko sa isang Higher Being. Tuluy-tuloy lang sa pagsusumikap maging mabuting tao sa araw-araw. My thinking now is neither positive or negative. Basta ang iniisip ko lang, "O sige, gagawin ko itong gusto ko." Hindi ko ipa-fast forward sarili ko, hindi ako kakapit sa mga maimpluwensiya para umangat. Basta, I'll just do my own work. In a way, reflection ito ng faith ko in life, ng faith ko sa art ko, ng faith ko sa mga struggles ko sa buhayPag struggling mas lalo akong nagugutom magtrabaho at mag-hustle. Para maipakita ko naman kahit paano mga piyesa ko.  

Kristo y Kristos will run until April 30 at Pasilyo Edades (4F Hallway Gallery), CCP Main Theater Building.

Photography: Black Nazarene (Eve Baswell); Kristo y Kristos (courtesy of Auggie Fontanilla

 

 

 

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