Art and history meet in‘Hocus’

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Exhibit features collaborative artworks of visual artist Guy Custodio and historian Saul Hofileña

Twenty-six oil paintings which feature a contemporary art works with religious themes will be exhibiting until October 29 at the National Museum.

The new unique art exhibit dubbed as “Hocus,” depict the ramification of the “Cross and Sword” rule of Spain in the Philippines. Hocus consists of the first syllables of the surnames of Saul Hofileña Jr., the intellectual author and painter, Guy Custodio.

‘The bridge of caprice,’ 2016, oil on canvas

Hofileña—a lawyer and historian by profession, and Custodio—a conservator of the church’ treasures, collaborated with the said project during a period of almost four years with a purpose of melding in oil, wood and woven cloth the Philippine nation’s history.


“As a historian, I have always been fascinated with the church history—our church history. Political history during the Spanish period went hand in hand with ecclesiastical history. The lowly indio was tied to the Spanish escutcheon and the Cross. Thus, the indio never had a chance,” Hofileña recalled.

“After seeing some of Guy Custodio’s works, an idea germinated in my mind. What if I asked him to paint what is inside my head? So here we are now. We have the paintings, the products of that initial idea,” he shared.

The majority of the paintings deal with the Patronato Real or the Royal Patronage. The Royal Patronage was an arrangement between the Spanish monarchy who accepted from the Holy See the responsibility of maintaining and propagating the Catholic faith. In exchange, the missionaries of the faith defended the acts of the sovereign and impliedly recognize that the Spanish monarch possessed just title to the colonies.

“We ask the viewer of the paintings to look at and to read the paintings like miniature books because that is what they are, vignettes of our country’s history presented in allegory,” Hofileña said.

“We try to tell in each panel and canvas our country’s stories, so that we may understand why we are who we are,” Custodio added.

One of their outstanding work is the “Readers of the Lost Words” which is oft photographed work during the exhibit shows the friars of the five religious orders that ruled the country with an iron cross during the Spanish period. Each is holding a devotional written in the dialect where the friar order held sway.

The “Spanish Dirge,” meanwhile, is painted in ancient wood which shows the end of the Spanish empire in the Islands. Winged angels tale away the symbols of the Spanish empire—the Spanish colors, the letter ñ which is peculiar to the Spanish language, the Spanish sword, the esfera or orb and a treasure box containing the wealth extracted from the colony. Filipino angels play the dirge with the church of Cuyo as a fitting background.

‘The lost island of San Juan,’ 2014, oil on wood

Another painting brilliantly conceived is the “Philippine Palimpest”. According to Hofileña, in the days past in the Middle East and Europe, monastery scribes working in scriptoria occasionally scrape off words written on animal parchment in order to use them again. The re-used page is called a palimpest. Sometimes, words previously become visible again, revealing past secrets.

In the Philippine Palimpest, the “Dios de salve Maria”, is written over with “Aba Guinoong Maria”, its Tagalog equivalent. It is an overlay written in red, symbolizing the blood of the indio shed in the name of Christianization. The Castillian origin of the prayer is revealed for all to see.

Hocus is on exhibit at the National Museum of Fine Arts (Old Legislative Building) in Manila. Museum hours are from 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday.

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