BUNGA
KIM JEROME SANTIAGO

Sometime in 2008, artist Kim Jerome Santiago painted his mother’s photo when she was a kid and entitled it, Balot (wrap). Because being different has always been part of his consciousness, he painted a sheer sheet of plastic over it to give the illusion that the photograph was wrapped in it. At that time, it was his best. But he also knew and accepted that his art needed to be a lot better to pass and hopefully exceed the meticulous and critical standards of the local art scene.


Since deciding to pursue art as a profession, Santiago has focused on salient issues of his personal life to develop and differentiate his visual narrative in an era when the local scene is heavily centered on hyperrealism. Through the years, he has continuously evolved his focal subjects, from familiar objects to highly sensual imageries, rendered in especial hyperrealism effects, complete with glossy and reflective surfaces. Despite the significant transformative unfolding of his art, however, he has retained one peculiar visual element to coherently bind and ground all his works through the years—the painting of a realistic sheer sheet of plastic or cloth to the body of the subject, dramatically creasing and clinging around it.
Twelve years since he painted his mother’s portrait, Santiago reflects on his evolution and growth as an artist. He revisits some of the most important life decisions he made, and peruses how each affected him and his art. Despite his many flawed decisions, each he has firmly owned up to, he believes that people should nonetheless be more responsible for the choices they make, as each one yields a variety of consequences in mostly unexpected times. Good or bad, nobody can escape the repercussions of his or her decisions. In his creative description, “A good consequence gives you a desirable fruit, but a bad one gives you a seed of punishment. And this is the reason why my fifth exhibition is entitled, Bunga, which can be perceived as a fruit, a result, or a consequence.”


From legends in Filipino folklore and oral stories he grew up with, he carefully picked objects, from fruits to inanimate things, to visually retell narratives that are associated with choices and decisions. In each portrait, he paints the realism of memory and movement. To reinforce and magnify the thematic representations, he expertly executes large-scale paintings to draw the viewer’s attention. Acknowledging the good and the bad in each choice or decision, he portraits each subject with all its defects in a polychromatic palette—a significant shift from his famous sepia. And to maintain his coherence as an artist, he wraps each focal subject with sheer sheets of plastic and paints them in dramatic lighting. But unlike in previous exhibitions when he only used plastic as a creative challenge to differentiate his works, this time, he views plastic as an artistic representation of the naked truth of one’s decision and its consequences. Because in reality, one cannot escape, only face, the consequences of his decision, like how man-made clear plastic tries to cover a being but conceals nothing.
In his fifth solo exhibition, Santiago obsesses over the textures of materials. Despite the literal and visual simplicity of his chosen subjects, he demonstrates mastery of realist details to capture their vivid luminosity as well as the crinkly texture of the plastic sheets. His immaculate technique to yield the breadth of arresting precision and artistic panache he exhibits clearly affirms and celebrates his more than a decade of love and labor for his craft.


Through his representations, Santiago hopes to remind us to responsibly use our freedom in choosing our path in life by making the right choices and decisions, and not the convenient ones. Because regardless of our birth circumstances, we have the choice of the kind of life we will take and live, and the kind of person we want and wish to be. More than a shared being of our parents influenced and shaped by society, we are a result of the choices and decisions we make every day. And every day, we reap that fruit, result, or consequence—our Bunga.


- Prim Paypon