Via Dolorosa • Ang Kiukok

Apr 11 to Apr 29, 2017 • Tall Gallery

In a country steeped in the traditions of the Catholic Church, the Lenten ritual of the Way of the Cross orVia Dolorosa (sometimes also called the Via Crucis) is a fixture of Holy Week activities. Everywhere, in churches great and humble, people form small groups that stop in front of carved or painted images of the path Jesus took from Jerusalem to Golgotha. There are 14 such stations, each recalling an episode in the redeemer’s path from judgment to his crucifixion, death and entombment.

The Stations of the Cross trace its origins to the time of Constantine in 4th century Jerusalem. Within a thousand years, pilgrimages to the Holy Land would include a walk through the Via Dolorosa, the sorrowful path that Jesus walked from Pilate’s court to Mount Calvary.

“For the faithful, walking the Stations of the Cross during Lent is a personal pilgrimage of reflection and penance. While the devotion need not include a pictorial component (all that is required is a wooden cross at each station), the familiar tableaux have come to define the practice. The visual drama of the stations, whether naturalistic or stylized, is meant to stimulate empathic participation in Christ’s suffering.”

In the Philippines of my childhood, the community said the Via Dolorosa prayers as they followed the priest holding a Cross in a mini procession around the church grounds. It was part of the rituals ofCuaresma (Lent) and Semana Santa (Holy Week), which included processions of images, the washing of the feet and the blessing of holy oil on Maundy Thursday, and the Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words) on Good Friday, followed by the veneration of the Santo Entierro (image of the dead Christ).

The Church of the Resurrection in UP Diliman is noted for the Stations of the Cross painted by Vicente Manansala (National Artist for the Visual Arts). In fact, the church was the joint work of several other future national artists: Leandro Locsin (Architecture) for its architectural design, Napoleon Abueva (Visual Arts – Sculpture) for its crucifix, and Arturo Luz (Visual Arts – Painting) for the design on the floor.

Born in Davao in 1931 as the first child and only son to Chinese immigrant parents, Ang was also the first in his family to be born in the Philippines. From an early age, he showed a penchant for drawing and was asked to create the backdrops for school plays and other activities. His grandfather and father were successful merchants in Davao – establishing friendly ties with indigenous peoples who supplied their burgeoning business.

When the war came, the family left Davao for safer and out of the way enclaves in Mindanao’s mountains. It was a lesson in making do for the young Ang and his family. By war’s end, they went back to Davao only to find that their stores have been ransacked, if not burned. It was time to start anew.

Because of his strong desire to study fine arts in Manila, Ang proposed to his father that he be allowed to do so for one year. The father agreed, and soon Ang found his way to the College of Fine Arts of the University of Sto. Tomas. He studied under the strict tutelage of master painters and teachers that included Dean Victorio Edades and Vicente Manansala, as well as Diosdado Lorenzo, Jose Garcia Llamas, Botong Francisco, Galo Ocampo, Virginia Ty and Francesco Monti. The greatest influence was Vicente Manansala, who took a special liking and interest in the young artist, guiding him in his development.

Ang visited New York with his mentor Manansala in 1965. The urban squalor and alienation that he observed there influenced the focus of his art: agony, ugliness, sorrow and madness.

Commissioned by a private collector in the mid-1990s, Ang painted a set of paintings depicting the Via Dolorosa that was never exhibited, nor installed in a church. In this series made over a few years, the artist documented his vision of Christ and his passion.

The images are compelling. Rejecting the often saccharine and idealized images of the Stations of the Cross, Ang instead focused on the intensity of Christ’s passion. The faces are rendered with the barest details. Bodies are simple geometric shapes. The Redeemer is depicted in his white robes, later removed when the Roman soldiers cast lots for it, as predicted by Scripture. The limp body is then brought down from the cross for subsequent burial. It was a man that was made to bear the cross and endure the crucifixion in order to save mankind. Ang the artist paints a most vivid and painful set of pictures to drive home this point.

Despite international accolades, critical and commercial success, Ang remained the humble provinciano that he was in his youth. In 2001, when he was awarded the Order of National Artist at Malacanan Palace by the President of the Republic, he asked his friend Vita Sarenas to write a few lines in Filipino for him to read upon accepting the great honor. She recalls: “When his turn came, he just stood there, uneasy. After about a minute, he said: ‘Salamat,’ paused then repeated: ‘Salamat.’ Paused once more, and a final‘Salamat.’ Then we all clapped and he went back to his seat. He told me later that he lost the piece of paper. He was always so shy.”

Ang Kiukok is one of the vanguards of Modern Philippine Art. He is known for the strongly painted and angst-ridden depictions of Philippine truths. “During the Marcos Regime, and the period of martial law…(Ang) Kiukok returned to painting violent and gruesome imagery that some interpreted as a commentary on the political atmosphere of the era. Once, when asked about the anger in his art he replied: ‘Look around you. So much anger, ugliness. And also madness.’”

This rare set of paintings is on exhibit, April 7-29, 2017 at Finale Art Gallery as a fitting commemoration of the Lenten season, and a tribute to the artist.