Labeled • Bembol De La Cruz

Mar 14 to Apr 8, 2019 • Upstairs Gallery

Despite its trend in the last few years, the stigma of having tattoos remains. Often correlated to prison culture, carriers of these markings are easily presupposed to be immoral and malign. Bembol Dela Cruz’s latest series Labeled assembles depictions of friends and colleagues who sport sleeve tattoos, as a manner of diverting the usual practice of portraiture that focuses on faces. With each imprint carrying its on narrative, the permanency of ink on skin reveals more about the person than that has of faces — an awareness that has brought the artist to emphasize each unique design exclusively carried by these individuals.

The redundancy of gas masks while facing to the left parallels the societal fallacy of condescending sameness among people who have tattoos. As though a form of toxicity, the conventional view of modified bodies still receive fear, apprehension and distress, as though physical taint deserves smearing of the person where judgement precedes any possibility for introduction and even engagement. For its bearers, the stereotyping brings forth suffocation, as though unable to be seen even as human.

Paired to the paintings is a wall-bound wood cut-out that resemble the experience of getting tattoos, where pain intensity fluctuates from the moment the needle touches one’s dermis to the point the design is realized. Highlighting the reality of physicality for such sessions and the endurance required to achieve its beauty shows the gravity and seriousness of the markings. Beyond aesthetics, tattoos speak deeply of one’s struggles, beliefs, histories and presents; they are chronicles of moments and impressions of selves concretely committed to skin. These stamps of identity, in its intricacy and spaces, speak volumes of the person beneath it. (Iris Ferrer)