Rodel Tapaya: New art from the Philippines

18 March – 20 August
Contemporary galleries | Lower Ground 1
Free entry

Speaking about the symbolism in his large triptych The promise land: the moon, the sun, the stars, a newly commissioned work for the NGA, Rodel Tapaya says, ‘In some way, I realise that old stories are not just metaphors. I can find connections with contemporary time. It’s like the myths are poetic narrations of the present. Sometimes, the present events are so hard to grasp that they could be mistaken as a myth, or folktale, just to enable people to cope’.

Rodel Tapaya The promise land: the moon

Tapaya has been exhibiting for over a decade and has established an intriguing literary-based visual practice, unique in its Filipino perspective yet striking for its participation in the rich history of Hispanic narrative painting. His flat application of paint, cramped figurative compositions and mix of decorative surface with political messaging immediately evokes the work of the Mexican muralists and surrealists such as José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Frida Kahlo. However, in a constructed knotting of the social, political and environmental issues of Filipino life, Tapaya’s work illuminates a complicated contemporary existence. And, as with the great social narrative painters before him, the local issues grappled with are often of global significance.

Rodel Tapaya The promise land: the sun

Tapaya’s commission for the NGA is a work of epic scale befitting the complexity of its subject matter. The painting brilliantly presents three separate yet interconnected narratives across a ten-metre triptych.

Rodel Tapaya The promise land: the moon, the sun, the stars 2016 acrylic on canvas Proposed acquisition 2017 Courtesy of the artist and A3

‘My challenge to myself is always … how to make a huge work complex in composition and detail yet with harmony and unity, inspired by stories of past, true or not, from myths, legends and current events’, he says. It is an impressive example of his internationally celebrated folk-narrative style: ‘old stories’ reimagined and reimaged for a contemporary audience.

By drawing inspiration from pre-colonial mythology and Filipino folkloric tradition, Tapaya meticulously pieces together numerous pictorial fragments, fusing the otherworldly with the real, in a visual grappling with contemporary politics, social and environmental issues. He explains, ‘I try to weave them in one continuum, and hopefully people find the narrative by their own journey through the maze. I also hope people see how challenging it is to make a mural-like scale of work with complexities of content and composition. It involves editing, emphasising and including subtleties in the imagery, concepts and themes to enrich the interpretations.'

In The promise land: the moon, the sun, the stars Tapaya reimagines a creation myth from the Moro-Isolan tribe in Mindanao. A great winged creature (Buwan), whose face is divided by a crescent, stares out at us, her red-feathered form perched against the black of the night sky. A ferocious warrior (Araw), holding his kalis (sword) aloft, is shrouded in the red and orange of a burning flame. He appears to send a flickering and crackling heat in all directions, while the stark white face of a Lumad (indigenous) figure, dressed in traditional textiles of the Bagobo tribe, bleeds profusely, spilling a dark red blood across the scene below.

This compelling work features alongside newly created paintings, sculptural installation and works on paper in Rodel Tapaya: New art from the Philippines, the artist’s first solo exhibition in Australia.

Jaklyn Babington
Senior Curator, Contemporary Arts Practice – Global
(Extract from Artonview, issue 89, Autumn 2017)


The NGA wishes to acknowledge the generous support of A3 in the realisation of this project.

Rodel Tapaya The promise land: the stars