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Seeking salvation


Scenes from Pananampalataya, Filipino expressions of faith. by Iris Gonzales

Filipino expressions of faith are complex and diverse, writes Iris Gonzales.

It is quiet in the confession booth, except perhaps for the whispers of sinners seeking salvation from strangers in white robes. Men and women, thieves, vagabonds, adulterers, lonely mistresses – all of whom may be considered sinners by some – will kneel and confess their acts before they do it all again, another time, another day.

There is a soldier, slumped on his back, perhaps dead or dying; perhaps wounded or too weak to stand. His gun-wielding comrades are by his side. They are in the middle of a battle, or the war has just begun. All are fighting for their lives.

In a place named Tacloban, after the world came to an end when super typhoon Haiyan struck, a man is standing in the middle of the chaos. There is a mountain of trash and debris behind him. He has almost nothing: no shirt, no bags, no home; just a black rosary he wears around his neck.

There are rituals for the dead, ceremonies for the living, flagellations for the sinners and guns for the saviours.

These are just some of the images of faith and how it is held deeply by nearly every man, woman and child here in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country of 100 million people. There is sometimes no rationality or reason but faith, nevertheless, serves its epistemic function in this country where more than 25 million Filipinos are mired in deep poverty. It is an end to contradictions or at the centre of ironies.

Faith is at the core of one’s survival in a country where the government has failed its people, where religion dictates birth-control methods and where a church insists on keeping unhappy marriages intact.

It is expressed in endless ways and the differences are stark and telling.

And the different ways by which Filipinos hold on to their faith are vividly captured in a collection of images by 5 Filipino photographers: Jose Enrique Soriano, Veejay Villafranca, Jake Verzosa, Carlo Gabuco, and Jes Aznar.

The result is Pananampalataya – the Filipino word for faith – an exhibition, which is part of the inaugural Photo Bangkok Festival, an international photography festival that is currently ongoing in Bangkok, Thailand.

Pananampalataya is presented by AsianEye Gallery, an online gallery that aims to raise the profile of veteran and emerging Asian photographers and to encourage collectors from all over the world to discover and appreciate their vision and work.

‘The Filipino photographer is unique when juxtaposed with the rest of his Asian and Western counterparts. The artist comes from an archipelago composed of 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia, and is greatly influenced by the country’s history of popular struggles. One unparalleled historical factor which explains the distinctiveness of the Philippines in Asia is its prolonged history under direct colonial domination. Colonialism in the Philippines began in the 16th century, as in Latin America – 300 years earlier than most Asian countries. The worldview of Filipinos reflects a strong Hispanic and Christianized influence, with the Catholic Church contributing to this. The Filipino is the fruit of this integration. And what is integral in this integration is the faith (pananampalataya) of its people – a faith in a force (tadhana) that determines the destiny of its people,’ the exhibition notes explain.

Pia Artadi, the Filipina behind AsianEye, says she wanted to show the world the talent of Filipino photographers: ‘I wanted to portray how strong and how unique their work is.’

On the subject of faith, Artadi says its universality remains profound and that she wanted to share Filipinos’ practice of faith to a wider audience that, in the process, may find common ground.

Piyatat Hemmatat, director of Photo Bangkok 2015, says the 2-month-long festival aims to facilitate the development of the creative community through the next generations.

Photo Bangkok 2015 runs at the Cho Why Gallery until 22 August.

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