In a first for the Philippine art world, a lawyer-historian and a painter-conservator teamed up to produce a series of paintings on historical themes that bring to life our colonial past and the ways we come to terms with it.
In Juico Final (Final Judgment): HOCUS III, a magnificently produced art book, the vision and creative authorship of Saul Hofileña, Jr. and artistic skill of Guy Custodio meld into a serendipitous collaboration that manifests a decolonized view of historical occurrences during the country’s two colonial periods.
The partnership of Hofileña and Custodio under the name HOCUS (from the first syllables of their last names) has produced a rich wealth of historical-themed artwork—HOCUS I: Patronato Real, HOCUS II: Quadricula, and finally, HOCUS III: Juicio Final.
The first two collections, curated by Gemma Cruz Araneta, have been shown in the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), to widespread acclaim. They were, to date, the longest-running non-permanent exhibits there. Hopefully, HOCUS III will be shown there too, to bring a satisfying conclusion to this artistic trilogy.
Juicio Final, a history book masquerading as a catalogue raisonnė, is a large format book on thick coated paper, the better to bring to life the images contained in it that comprise what Hofileña says is the final set of paintings he wants to do. I hope he changes his mind about this one of these days, as there are only 87 fully completed HOCUS paintings in all.
Of the 19 artworks in Juicio, 17 tie up the loose ends of historical narrative that Araneta spotted in the first two collections, and extend it to encompass incidents from the American occupation, completing the colonial cycle of Hofileña’s vision.
Each painting is accompanied by a short essay that explains the imagery and symbolism as drawn from historical events and incidents, but seen through a post-colonial lens.
Evident from the choice of themes is the generation-spanning resonance of Jose Rizal’s influence, which HOCUS shows in two paintings. In “Binaril Nila si Doktor,” a mass of people in late 19th-century garb are shown huddled under a leaden sky. Hofileña writes that Rizal was killed by the Spaniards likely because Rizal, per historian Rafael Palma, “was the first one to dare write about the ills of colonial society.”
In “Santo ng Bayan,” Rizal is shown standing in Bagumbayan, rope tied around his arms and elbows. Behind him lie fallen Spanish soldiers, while above arches a crumbling, frescoed church ceiling. “Immortal, he stands alone at the place where they executed him, at the crack of dawn,” writes Hofileña. “He has outlived those who clamored for his death as well as the hapless soldiers ordered to shoot him. The Filipinos themselves chose to honor Jose Rizal, irrevocably.”
This is a spine-tingling, thrilling declaration of love and respect for the national hero, who also happens to be one of my personal heroes.
Another significant theme in this book is the acknowledgment of the power of women as contrasted with their socially constructed ‘fragility.’
Among the paintings thus themed is “Luminous,” which shows an angel in baro’t saya reading a page of baybayin. The accompanying text references the young women of Malolos who wished to further their education, the strong and industrious German women Rizal met abroad, and the ancient priestesses of precolonial times. “In the beginning, there was the babaylan,” Hofileña writes.
Another frisson runs up my spine. For these paintings and essays alone, this book is worth its price.
Apart from their inherent artistic value, the HOCUS paintings are an invaluable aid in teaching history. A huge number of students and teachers, as well as the general public, visited the HOCUS I exhibit at the NMP from April 16 to October 29, 2017, and HOCUS II from September 15, 2019 to March 15, 2020.
Hofileña, as creative author of the HOCUS paintings, has donated 11 of them to the NMP. Six gigantic HOCUS paintings are now on permanent display at the National Museum of Fine Arts, and five will be hung next month in the foyer of the National Museum of Anthropology as a permanent exhibition.
A recurrent symbol throughout many of the paintings is the ‘anghel de cuyacuy,’ the HOCUS signature. “He is a Filipino angel sitting on a bench reading a book with one leg swaying nonchalantly,” writes Hofileña. “He is an angel destined to battle ignorance and superstition and not Satan’s murderous horde.” HOCUS has done its best to brush away the cobwebs of our collective ignorance about our history, and this book helps remind us of that.
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Juicio Final: Final Judgment (HOCUS III)
By Saul Hofileña Jr.
2022, 82 pages, pb, Baybayin Publishing