CONTEMPLATION, PEN & INK ON PAPER, 109 X 178 CM. 2014
Self-taught artist John Frank Sabado hails from the Mountain Province of the Philippines. Known for his intricate, tapestry-like landscapes wrought from biro- point, Sabado re-introduces to us the universal ethnic in his new exhibition “Northern Postcards.”
In this new monochromatic series, he presents an artistic practice delicate in detail and method that is akin to weaving the filaments of fiber of a textile. “Northern Postcards” weigh the ecological struggle between the utopian land and the technology’s aggressive hand. As with postcards, the intricate landscapes in Sabado’s works suggest a channel of communication: the sender of which is an indigenous echo projected towards the context of the contemporary as a material and transcendent affair.
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The Drawing Room joins him for a Q&A on his practice and this current exhibition.
The Drawing Room: Hi John Frank, can you please tell us more about your background and the history of the landscape you grew up in?
John Frank Sabado: I was born in Mankayan, Benguet and grew up in the logging area where my parents worked from the 1960’s to mid-1980’s. The landscape then was a perfect playground for me as a child. We moved to Baguio City due to the declaration of the Total Log Ban in the 80’s. I often visit the place in my dreams, but it currently needs complete reforestation due to continuous illegal logging.
TDR: How about the format you have used through the years? Can you tell me more about the choice of biro-point and landscape-like imagery? It has been mentioned that local textile can be seen as reference to understanding the intricacy of your works: do you agree with this?
JFS: I have just been comfortable using pen, it was my first medium when I started practicing art. And it has been through the years. It is a choice to continue this format because I want to improve the medium and technique of pen and ink. I have been doing the landscape imagery in my works since the late 90’s. Local textiles in the Cordillera have intricate designs. They have given me inspiration to refer to their designs and patterns. At the same time, it was my way of understanding the symbols of the Cordillera.
TDR: In terms of your statement towards these “signs of progress”, I feel that you take a very strong stance that it is harmful, or aggressive. What is the story of these capitalist ventures? And how has the community been reacting against them – are these reaction successful or failed? Why do you think it’s hard to resist these powers?
JFS: Despite the campaigns pursued by concerned communities over the years, improvements have been slow. As much as globalization is seen as “global development”, I think it hasn’t become that. It only broadens the disparity between the increasing number of third world countries and the few rich countries. Third world has always been the favorite prey of the capitalists because of its rich natural reserves. Environmental abuse is inevitable as wealth, power, and capitalist superiority are their central aims. Illegal activities and aggressions are instruments of business interventions and expansions. Some reactions of the society have failed because of lack of support by the other communities. Promises from the venture capitalists are powerful in the sense that it had persuaded the minds of societies to be on their side. I believe that everyone in the society has the right to fight against the destruction of our one and only home which is the land. The only weapon we have is our culture.
TDR: Where is this sense of destruction in your current work? Or are you visualizing more on the circle/cycle of so-called progress? Who will triumph in the end? Or are you trying to project the natural beauty of a forgotten landscape? Why is there a need to revisit it?
JFS: My works show both the cycle of this so-called progress and the natural beauty of a forgotten landscape. Our mother is the one that triumphs in the end. Human beings and their inventions can vanish but our home can regain the beauty and perfection of it. I want to show the ruins and debris of natural calamities and manmade destructions to remind us about the bitterness of phenomena. Natural beauty of nature is a perfect creation by the almighty. Inventions created by humans are intentionally or unintentionally made for good or for destruction. It is necessary to recall the forgotten perfect landscape to correct the abusive way of the so-called global development.