Corpus Delicti • Bembol Dela Cruz

Oct 6 to Oct 27, 2011 • Upstairs Gallery

Bodies of Evidence

Fresh from his feted success at the 2011 Ateneo Art Awards, Bembol Dela Cruz unveils to the public Corpus Delicti, his latest one-man show of works, at Finale Art File.

Corpus Delicti merges skin art and oil painting, two of his strong areas of interest as a visual artist. The show features a collection of small works in oil on leather, like a catalogue of tattoo designs salvaged from anonymous bodies.

The exhibit reflects dela Cruz’s deliberate exploration of different mediums as art objects. Corpus Delicti takes off from his 2010 show at Singapore’s Artesan Gallery + Studio, which exhibited figurative paintings of subjects with tattoos. Unlike in conventional portraits, which generally highlight the face or countenance of the person in the picture, dela Cruz’s paintings focus on the tattoos overtly displayed by his subjects: signifiers of defiance and daring.

In this 2011 show, however, dela Cruz directly engages the concept of tattoos as an object and not just an image: exploring their functions as corpus delicti: bodies of evidence and signifiers of transgression.

Tattoos have been used to denote rank and identity. Dela Cruz toys with the idea of tattoos as signifiers of self and as objects of forensic value, where one can be both identified or implicated in a crime by these images. This is reflected in the way that the artist exhibits these objects. He leaves them unprimed, simulating the rawness of ink on bare skin. He deliberately has them unmounted and unframed: stretched wide and pinned up, like hide laid out to dry. He titles his individual works anatomically, like identification codes for some unknown crime: this tattoo comes from the right shoulder, a side ankle, and so forth—signs that could draw out the identity of either victim or perpetrator.

The various images painted on skin—geometric, symbolic, and textual—serve as clues to unfolding stories and testimonies. Imbuing these objects with a macabre sense of danger and trangression, dela Cruz demonstrates how art can seamlessly weave through the daily discourse of moral, aesthetic, and criminal transgressions.

Bembol dela Cruz will be receiving the Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus Residency Grant as part of the Ateneo Art Awards prize. He holds a degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and has been active in art exhibitions since 2000.