A two-person exhibition by Leny Leonor and Aids Mariñas
They are among us
“Among Men” showcases recent works by Leny Leonor and Aids Mariñas as they confront the concept of Philippine mythological creatures and folklore in the present day. Unlike the globally popular and highly-documented Egyptian, Norse or Greek mythologies, with dedicated scholars formally organizing their origins and structure, Philippine folklore and mythology seem to have been, predictably, heavily altered and improperly documented since colonial times. Though they still have a place in Filipino culture – especially in rural areas, where superstition and tradition still permeate societal norms, the orality, ethic-inclusiveness and lack of reliable written material regarding Filipino mythical creatures may have contributed to the diversity of the cast of characters, and the limitless variations in the telling of their stories.
For their part, Leonor and Mariñas, noticing a gap in how Filipino folklore has been portrayed contemporarily, present paintings and pieces of sculpture that are re-imaginings of different kinds of the more well-known creatures in the hopes of re-introducing them and reviving the interest of a generation of millennials seemingly more caught up in gnomes rather than duendes, Dobby rather than tiyanaks, and Minotaurs rather than kapres.
Leny Leonor paints mundane scenes populated by these creatures, such as in Morning Commute, where the overall image is the interior of a UV Express van with only the central figure remaining a normal human while her co-commuters take on mythological personas. Leonor also interprets a tikbalang as a fast food service crew member, as she plays on the belief that if a normal person acquires strands of a tikbalang’s hair, the creature would be bound in servitude and follow that person until the end of time. As these creatures are portrayed as characters you may find in your favorite fast food store or interact with on a daily basis, they shed their mythic qualities and function in society as normal human beings, promoting their own demystification.
Aids Mariñas uses resin, fabric and embellishments identified with santos to create characters that are not only inspired by folklore, but also draw on his fascination with 70s Japanese animated characters. His Sto. Niño is an interpretation of a restless spirit taking on the form of the child saint, going from house to house and knocking on doors. A Wakwak is a flying aswang that uses its red wings to cut its victims, not needing to leave its lower half behind. He also creates a Syokoy or merman, its upper half fish and lower half human. Lamanlupa like duendes and nuno sa punso who live underground or in anthills are also given equal importance, so is the Santelmo, a yellow ball of light said to come from a vengeful spirit. He also creates his own Kapre with a dark face, to honor ancient sources that say that the creature is a pugot, or a dishonored headless warrior.
As the artists integrate their interpretations of mythological creatures into their audiences’ sights, they become producers of new beings themselves. However, the mystery of folklore is that nobody really knows – they might already be among us right now, disguised as regular people in different incarnations, serving fried chicken or, maybe, even grilled isaw and clotted blood.
Words by Kaye O’Yek