Beyond Boundaries: Ilonggo artist reinvents steel sculptures at NCCA Gallery Walls.

No longer relegated to the role of a simple divider, the wall within the prestigious halls of the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Gallery turned into an interactive spectacle as Ilonggo artist Martin Genodepa’s steel sculpture installation brought this transformation to life, encouraging viewers to challenge their perceptions of boundaries and limitations.

Breaking free from traditional artistic expression, the exhibit promises an intermingling of haunting yet contemplative experiences. Drawing its title from the first line of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Walls,” it initially hints at themes of division and maintenance. But, the installation itself is a departure from this narrative. Instead of mending walls, it is about breaking free from them, serving as a symbolic expression of liberation. It invites audiences to reflect on the act of dismantling constraints and overcoming metaphorical barriers.

The installation comprises a collection of 50 steel rod sculptures of distinct faces with slender, stick-like body figures. The unique pieces are strategically arranged across four independent walls and one medium-sized wall. Shedding light on his meticulous process, Genodepa explained, “I had to draw the faces [of the sculptures] on the Manila paper [before sculpting it], so no two faces are the same.”

The inspiration behind the exhibit draws from a myriad of sources. At its core, one of its artistic intentions is to craft an installation that exudes an eerie allure and a reflective depth—a creation that can be perceived from and appreciated at different levels: personal, political, spiritual, economic, and cultural.

Incorporating folk narratives from Ilonggo culture and scenes from horror movies, wherein ghosts and spirits are often portrayed as passing through or appearing on the walls, the installation is imbued with an enriched sense of storytelling.

The steel sculptures hanging on the walls in an illuminated space cast intricate shadows across walls and floors, engaging gallery visitors in a certain kind of interaction. Contrary to its association with fear, the exhibit, however, isn’t about horror but rather the haunting beauty of the ghostly sculptures coming out from the walls. As Genodepa said, “Not all ghosts are scary; some of them are friendly, like Casper.”

The exhibit also stood like a memory wall, evoking a nostalgic journey back to one’s childhood as it also reminisces drawings etched onto walls by young children. Beyond its spectral semblance, the assembly of 50 steel rod sculptures presents a dual perception. While one angle portrays ghostly apparitions coming out from the wall, an alternate view reveals an image of 3D innocent doodles, which rekindle those memories of spontaneous traces of unbridled imagination, connecting the innocence of youth with the wisdom of age.

Beyond its thematic exploration, Genodepa’s installation is also an experiment on the parameters of wall sculptures. Behind the work is a concept of extending relief sculptures beyond their conventional limits resulting in an intriguing interplay of dimensionality that reimagines the relationship between sculpture and space.

“An idea that I had long ago was about how relief/wall sculptures can be projected outside the usual limit of their extension. Usually, when you see alto-relievo or high-relief sculptures, more than half of the body is coming out of the wall. But this one [referring to the installation] is also about extending, inspired by the work of Heide Fasnacht, Sneeze,” Genodepa told Daily Guardian when asked about how he came up with the idea.

“Something There Is That Doesn’t Love A Wall” is Genodepa’s latest masterpiece, marking his 17th solo exhibition supported by the UP Visayas Creative Work Grant, which runs until August 31.

Martin Genodepa is an artist-teacher and cultural worker with a remarkable portfolio that boasts 16 solo exhibitions across esteemed venues, including Hiraya Gallery, Alliance Francais, Red Mill Gallery, UPV Art Gallery, Museo Iloilo, and the Bulwagang Fernando Amorsolo (Small Gallery) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

His sculptures and installations have been well-received by art critics – Alice Guillermo, Patrick Flores, Tito Valiente, and Emmanuel Torres, among others, further solidifying his position as a visionary in the art scene. Genodepa was instrumental in setting up the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA), serving as its first Museum Director in 2017-2018.

In 2022, he completed the establishment of the UPV Museum of Art and Cultural Heritage (UPV MACH) through a 2020 Higher Education Development Fund grant from the Commission on Higher Education. His awards and recognitions include the Freeman Fellowship for Asian Artists as artist-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center (USA) in 1999, the UP Outstanding Professional in the Visual Arts in 2008, the Ford Foundation International Fellowship in 2009-2011, the Jose and Asuncion Joya Professorial Chair for the Arts in 2013 and 2014, UP Artist I 2018-2020, and the One UP Professorial Chair 2022-2024 for Creative Work. (Photo Courtesy of Prof. Martin Genodepa)