By Neil Doloricon
Scribbling, doodling, drawing, painting… these are the things that DengCoy Miel does whenever he is not resting or sleeping.
Deng is one of the most celebrated editorial cartoonists and illustrators of our time, both here and abroad. He was a National Cartoonist Society Awardee in 2001, a painting major at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, and he has worked at The Straits Times, the most widely circulated newspaper in Singapore.
Keeping abreast with what’s happening back home, he shares insights and comments on the historical probabilities that could have unfolded during the 1896 Philippine Revolution.
In his recent solo exhibit at Pinto Art Museum, entitled “Cuentos Interruptus,” which opened on August 18, Deng delves into the complexities of historical controversies that haunt the first Asian anti-colonial revolt, whose leadership was stolen by a dubious character.
As history is said to be written by the victors, these dubious victors have yet to wait how history will bare their true character, or how history could be redrawn on fresh canvas.
In the fertile mind and the able hands of Deng, art interrogates Philippine history.
He poses a different scenario: What might history be with Andres Bonifacio leading his men to a victorious bloodletting against the old and new colonizers?
In his painting “Boni Parti: Andres + ing Maragondon,” Deng adopts Jacques-Louis David’s “Napoleon Crossing the Alps,” where Bonifacio is depicted in a Napoleonic posture, a victorious and glorified presentation of a conqueror.
The likeness is perhaps lost on Deng’s comparing a true Filipino freedom fighter to a conqueror of Europe, someone who died of cancer while in exile and not in battle. Bonifacio had not been able to conquer the conqueror, but he was able to conquer the hearts and minds of the Filipino people and inspire them to pursue the unfinished revolution of 1896 that was hijacked by the Magdalo at the Tejeros Convention in Cavite.
Meanwhile, in one of his oeuvres, entitled “Prusisyon,” Deng tackles Filipino religiosity. Instead of presenting the body of venerated saints or God the son, he presented a magnified cross-section of a dermis carried by the faithful in a procession.
The idea here, according to Deng, is to examine its scientific cell makeup. That is investigating the materiality of a metaphysical world, because it is from that materiality of an iconic figure that believers take the power of faith. In religious parlance, materiality might be equated with being worldly or greedy.
The fact and the truth about the workingman is rendered invisible to the viewer of earthly material realities that have succumbed to the hypnotic spell of wealth possession and the means of maintaining its reign.
Deng also made a painting about fatalism, entitled “Kapit sa Fatalism/Patalim,” which deplores the Pinoy defeatism—accepting that our life has been predetermined and governed by divine providence. This belief has been used by feudal landlords to enslave peasants into submitting their fate to them.
The central image in the painting is the carcass of a figure spread like wings, clutching a blade, further stressing desperation at life’s edge. Small images in the background bolster the message of betrayal.
Deng may have been inspired by Icarus in the Greek mythology who was drawn into the water after his wings melted after attempting to get closer to the sun. It describes the fatalistic tendency of people pushing their limits because, in the end, if it’s your destiny it will happen.
Less the certainty of destiny, but more the folly and the obstinacy of those whose quests are best exemplified by superhuman forces. Portrayals such as this could be questioned no end as to real intent, if not understanding.
But that is indeed a premature conclusion. Deng’s redemptive “Gnomon ni Rizal: Patnubayan mo po Kami,” the Rizal monument becomes a structure for informal settlers, whose abodes are dependent on the said monument. The seeming suggestion is that when things are at bottom low, there is no other way but up. But up it may be, that foundation would also mean that the people’s hope might be at the mercy and grace of divine providence or promises of our leaders.
We are left contemplating what has become of Deng’s view of the home from way out there, out there in Singapore, that is.
Though the Philippines is really within reach from Singapore, and news and updates from home is not hard to come by, homesickness, longing for home seems insufficient illumination to sharpen figures on canvas, one that can inescapably and ably join what media and brush would produce for the viewing public.
Cuentos Interruptus is on view at Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo City until Sept. 1.