Cover Standing with his family, Ferdinand Marcos waves to the crowd after his inauguration as the President of the Philippines on December 30, 1965

Held at the Ateneo Art Gallery in Quezon City, Pio Abad's new exhibit entices the audience into seeing the realities of corruption through art

The first question I asked acclaimed artist Pio Abad was about cognitive dissonance. "I'm sure your exhibit stirs up in the minds of supporters of the Marcos family," I commented. "How do you invite them to open their minds to these works?" 

With a smile, the artist calmly answered: "I think the show is . . . pretty." The small group around us chuckle—it's true. "[The show] is seductive. It's not explicitly angry. From the aesthetic point of view, it is beguiling and that's [what gets people interested]."

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Entitled "Fear of Freedom Makes Us See Ghosts", Pio Abad's latest exhibition is one that is as timely as ever. To be displayed at the Areté was a plan four years in the making, though the creator himself had no idea that it would come under such pivotal circumstances. Dressed head to toe in pink—from his face mask to his socks—Abad could easily be labelled as partisan. But his work and demeanour do not exude the kind of condescension familiar to political zealots. He is merely doing what artists do: exhibiting reality. 

Abad’s parents were activists during the time of Martial Law in the '70s. They were incarcerated in a military camp before being released and placed under “campus arrest” at AdMU for one year. Through their advocacy came Abad's passion for archival history. "I'm a real nerd about that," he laughed. His current exhibit portrays many of his finds that come from excavating history. These items are an "inventory of the regime's corruption": from the Marcos family's commissioned paintings to Imelda's diamonds and artworks bought from Old Masters using taxpayers' money.

Ironically enough, seeing this in real life was Abad's first foray into museum culture. "When I was young, the Presidential Museum in Malacañan was located in the basement of the Palace," he recalled. "Everyone was invited to come and see what the family had left behind and so that was my first experience of a museum—a museum [filled with] loot." 

Now, as the Philippine elections draw near, people are invited to visit the Ateneo Art Gallery (Fredesvinda Almeda Consunji Gallery, Ambeth R Ocampo Gallery, Elizabeth Gokongwei Gallery, and Alicia P Lorenzo Gallery) on the third floor of the Areté building to witness not just Abad's art, but history as well. Upon entering, the first item to catch one's eye is a faded sculpture representative of Maganda at Malakas, a Filipino folk story on the origin of man. It will be remembered that soon after the Marcos family fled Malacañan, droves of people rushed into the Palace and found commissioned paintings by Evan Cosayo like Malakas at Maganda, with the First Couple as models. Abad in turn created counterfeit copies of these paintings for display; when the late dictator was given a Heroes' Burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on November 18, 2016, Abad promptly chose to paint these over in black. "I have decided that the best thing to do is to cover both works entirely in black paint (including the frames) while retaining the titles of the work, Ferdinand as Malakas, Imelda as Maganda," he wrote. "I then requested that the paintings tour in this state, with a small photograph of the paintings in their original form installed alongside."

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The next instalment of Abad's work is images: photographs, postcards, and framed drawings. These are entitled The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders, false identities used by Ferdinand and Imelda to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars into four Swiss bank accounts. There are photographs of all the Regency era silverware owned by the family, postcards with images of Old Master paintings (which audiences are encouraged to keep), and framed drawings of Staffordshire porcelain and Louis IV-style furniture. Despite how often the media talk about Marcos' ill-gotten wealth, it's difficult to imagine just how vast the sum of it all is. "One of the main reasons behind this project was to disentangle this loot from the collective singularity, laying out individual objects in a forensic fashion to confront the public with its unwieldy scale and terrifying range," Abad said. 

Heading into the third and final gallery, audiences are greeted by models of some of Imelda's jewellery. As Abad has recounted, the family had tried to hide these in Borgy Manotoc's diaper bag when they fled to Hawaii. Under each piece of jewellery is labelled the exact cost of it all—and we don't mean in pesos or in dollars. A model of Imelda's pink diamond costs the same amount it took to build the Bicol International Airport and renovate the Sanga-Sanga Airport. A pair of earrings cost the average annual income of 15 Filipinos while a necklace could have provided electricity to 2,252 households in the country. It is a stark reminder of just how much Filipinos have lost through no fault of their own, but merely through the voracious greed of one family.

The final part of the entire exhibition features paintings. Modeled after propaganda books written by the late Marcos Snr himself, Abad painted the covers of these tomes sans the titles. On one canvas is a picture of a piece of ripped notebook paper, a nod to Notes on the New Society of the Philippines. Another shows a cover similar to that of Revolution from the Center. "They're abstract paintings, but also kind of memorials," Abad says of them. "[For myself], they have become a productive form of grieving for what we lost as a nation." 


‘Pio Abad: Fear of Freedom Makes Us See Ghosts’ will run at the Ateneo Art Gallery until July 30, 2022. The Ateneo Art Gallery is located within the Areté building of Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. 

Visits are strictly by appointment. To schedule a visit, go to bit.ly/VisitAAG. For contact details and more information, visit www.ateneoartgallery.com.

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