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Oct 13 - Nov 11, 2023

Gravity Art Space

Quezon City, Ph

WORDS BY Nikki Ignacio

Gold’s still king:

 Inside Iya Regalario’s Oro


No, this is hardly about resilience. Not a story about how we miraculously pulled through and lived to tell the tale. What this really is, is seething rage, albeit not the blind kind. Only the searing and burning kind, hopefully spreading like wildfire.


Much like many (or what sometimes feels like too few), visual artist Iya Regalario felt the crushing weight of the political climate, with the turnout of the 2022 presidential elections serving as the final straw, the cherry on top, the last fuse to blow. On top of the collective grief and pain Regalario felt deeply, it hit brutally close to home. For Regalario, whose father was among the many tortured and incarcerated under Marcos Sr.’s regime, putting a Marcos back in power felt like the sharpest slap in the face and brought out dystopian fears of the worst that had yet to come. It seems like the worst that could happen did, in fact, happen, right under our watch all over again. 


There scarcely seems like a way out except right through.


Oro is Regalario’s most head-on approach to personal and socio-political issues that commonly drive her art and life’s work. Using pyrography and acrylic and ink on various types of wood, Regalario illustrates the vapid states of greed and man’s centuries-old obsession with gold and power. After all these years and chances given to learn—repeatedly—from past mistakes, money still proves to rule and govern our every move for survival. Five standalone portraits express the artist’s perspective of the absurdity, gaudiness, and clownishness of political machinery and agenda like sinister mandalas, malignant forces trapping society in an endless feedback loop but packaged pleasingly like a plump poisoned apple.


Five standalone works present key issues and sentiments that continue to plague the artist’s mind: "The Corruption" shows corruption like a disease, consuming man to his core, while—on a related note—"Keep It In The Family" alludes to the shameless nepotism that keeps the country's wealth and power in a closed loop among the ruling few. "Pied Piper’s Triangle" is laden with visual symbols, overrun by rats and piercing swords, fighting and scrambling all the way to the top; while "The Amazing Show" pays grim homage to the bloated life of the rich and powerful and the White Elephant projects of both Marcos regimes. It reflects the absurd spectacle playing out before our eyes, in an attempt to hide politically motivated agendas and sway our gaze away from what's really going on behind the scenes.


"Under Pressure" points to a specific issue which the show’s concept and title largely takes inspiration from: the compressor mining industry, which is notoriously known for being one of the most dangerous and exploitative forms of labor. The irony of retrieving gold ores through hazardous means in exchange for a miniscule fee illustrates the widening gap of the rich, whose wealth is steeped in the blood and suffering of the most destitute. As of late, it also sums up the heavy weight that hangs on us all (whether we acknowledge it or not), and our dwindling purchasing power for basic goods. 


Oro: Suit of Gold, continues her series of tarot portraits under the Los Indios Filipinos Minor Arcana deck, which she began in 2019 when the first 11 cards of the Major Arcana were exhibited as part of her solo show Naivete at The Metro Gallery. Following Manos: Suit of Hands, this set focuses on “ the element of gold as representation of a culture of greed or attachment to material riches”. Each card illustrates concepts, events, or people that Regalario has personally found to be “greatly symbolic to local political conditions that dictate the quality of living in the Philippines.” It’s the class war depicted in memes, noontime shows, and stranger-than-fiction headlines. Contrasting the gilded accents of gold is a predominant red, hinting at blood, violence, and unrest—themes that have become far too commonplace.


The disconnect between the reality of those who have much and and those who have net-negative, but the limits of our privilege sometimes render us despondent and numb. As with her peers, recent events not only redefined not only the artist’s political perspectives, but also her identity as a Filipino. Realizing she needed the time and space to heal, Regalario acknowledged the process and went back to the fundamentals of her raison d’etre. With open eyes, acceptance, and less haste to heal, she continues to pick up the pieces—particularly of her weapons of choice and personal motivations—to allow herself to “accept what is and what will be”. 


Gold may be king. But fire still melts gold, after all.

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