Nazareno: Quiapo Constellations

Bellas Artes Outpost Opens Pawel Althamer Exhibition, Nazareno: Quiapo Constellation

Artes Projects is pleased to announce the March 28th, 2017 opening of Nazareno: Quiapo Constellations, a solo exhibition by internationally acclaimed Polish artist Pawel Althamer curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt. This exhibition marks the second show in the newly opened Manila nonprofit space, the Bellas Artes Outpost, and the first exhibition in the space produced as part of the international residency program of Bellas Artes Projects in Bagac, Bataan. The show will run for 3 months, and visitors are invited to become part of the installation through casting workshops held on weekends in the space. A public programme about the cultural wealth of Quiapo will accompany the exhibition, with talks by Tina Paterno, who will speak about the conservation of the San Sebastian Church to artist talks by Renato Habulan and Alfredo Esquillo, Jr., and many more soon to be announced.

In early January 2017, Pawel Althamer and his partner, Julia Petelska, traveled to the Philippines to participate in a residency centered on the annual procession of the Black Nazarene in the Quiapo district of Manila. This procession is one of the largest peaceful gatherings of humanity anywhere in the world, and lasted 22 hours with 1.4 million devotees on January 9th, 2017. The barefoot devotees follow a venerated 17th Century sculpture of Jesus Christ that was transferred from Mexico to the Philippines in 1606. It’s black wooden surface is unusual for a depiction of Christ; popular belief is that the sculpture miraculously survived a fire on the Spanish Galleon that transformed the color of the sculpture into a tone that Filipinos could easily identify with. Local parish groups prime the way of the procession with replicas of the image. Devotees believe that touching the surface of the image of the Black Nazarene will bring about a miracle, and the procession has grown in popularity as millions come together in the hope that their prayers will be heard.

Quiapo has for centuries been one of the most diverse districts of Manila, where the Catholic, Muslim, and Chinese community co-exist in close proximity. Jose Rizal wrote in his 1891 text El Filibusterismo that, “Our promenaders kept on their way, not without sighs on the part of the friar-artilleryman, until they reached a booth surrounded by sightseers, who quickly made way for them. It was a shop of little wooden figures, of local manufacture, representing in all shapes and sizes the costumes, races, and occupations of the country: Indians, Spaniards, Chinese, mestizos, friars, clergymen, government clerks, gobernadorcillos, students, soldiers, and so on.” The diversity of these sculptures illustrated in this paragraph alludes to a similar social composition found in Quiapo up to this day.

In previous bodies of work in Venice, New York, Warsaw, and Berlin, Pawel was able to connect diverse communities of people through his art-making process, often incorporating live casting to draw in disenfranchised members of the neighborhood and transform how the public perceives them. In his celebrated work from the 2013 Venice Biennale, The Venetians, Bangladeshi flower-sellers become indistinguishable from Italian princes in his haunting plaster and silicone sculptures. Quiapo during Traslacion was a fitting place for Pawel and his team of 17 local artists and art students to cast the diversity of this dynamic neighborhood: from a Muslim child living with her father in a rickshaw, to a community of nuns, to transvestite fire dancers, and from seven-year-old to seventy-year-old devotees of the Nazareno. The team cast about 52 faces, hands, and feet that were actively part of the miracle seeking found on the streets of Quiapo on January 9th, and these relics were then transferred to the workshops of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan.

Pawel decided to distill the tangles of bodies found during the procession into minimalist and constructivist inspired sculptures, created from found wood and scrap metal left over from historical houses collected at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Polish constructivist sculptors such as Katarzyna Kobro, and Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz as well as artists such as Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky inform the linear structures that Pawel and his Filipino team welded to unite the casts of bodies present during the Quiapo procession. Visitors can learn more about these artists who influenced Pawel in his selection of source books accessible in the Bellas Artes Projects reading room.

Visitors will find themselves tangled within the lines and shadows that create the Quiapo Constellation present for 3 months in the Bellas Artes Outpost. Like the practice of creating replicas of the Nazareno for community veneration, Pawel invites visitors to be part of the casting process and to become part of the Quiapo procession; artist welders in residence as well as the artisans at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar will join the bodies of outpost visitors to new metal and wood constructions inspired by Pawel’s visual language, and new constellations of Outpost visitors will be added to the installation throughout the course of the exhibition. Casting workshop will be held every Saturday and Sunday starting April 1 to July20.