Norberto Roldan: How Not to Win a Revolution

May 2, 2024 – June 15, 2024

505 W 24th St
New York, NY

Norberto Roldan, Pasión y Revolución 04, 2024, fabric assemblage with 19th century amulet vest, hand dyed fabrics, amulets, and Philippine demonetized centavo coins

Norberto Roldan, Pasión y Revolución 04, 2024, fabric assemblage with 19th century amulet vest, hand dyed fabrics, amulets, and Philippine demonetized centavo coins

Silverlens New York is pleased to present Norberto Roldan’s first US solo exhibition, How Not to Win a Revolution. The esteemed Filipino artist, widely acknowledged as an eminent figure in Southeast Asian art, presents a sweeping exploration of the social, political, and cultural conditions shaping his homeland, all while unveiling the oeuvre of a profound cultural practice. How Not to Win a Revolution will be on view from May 2 – June 15, 2024.

For almost 40 years, Noberto Roldan has significantly influenced the cultural landscape of the Philippines. In 1986, he established Black Artists in Asia, an artist collective aimed at uniting progressive artists outside of political affiliations while fostering the development of individual practices. In 1990, he initiated VIVA EXCON (Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference), the region’s longest-running and artists-led biennale. Currently, Roldan serves as artistic director of the Green Papaya Art Projects. For over 25 years, the organization he co-founded  has facilitated collaboration and cultural exchange among Southeast Asian artists, while also partnering with rural and Indigenous communities.

Roldan’s formative years spent in a seminary and subsequent immersion in the Filipino culture sector under the Marcos regime deeply shaped the artist. Informed by history, warfare, religion, mass media, and contemporary society, his artwork combines found objects, imagery, and text to delve into the intricate cultural and political fabric of the Philippines. His assemblages and installations intertwine Christian and folk religious rituals with unearthed fabrics, liturgical vestments, and personal mementos. Through recontextualization, he seeks to untangle the past from the present, paving the way for new narratives that offer alternative visions of the future. For Roldan, art transcends the confines of individual artworks to extend into the realm of social transformation.

Reflecting on his New York debut, Roldan said, “My exhibition is a post-colonial hang-up. While other formerly colonized countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere have moved forward with better economies and remained culturally resilient, the Philippines is still waging revolutions and remains frozen.”

How Not to Win a Revolution intricately weaves together the threads of Filipino history in four phases, delineating the evolution of revolutionary consciousness. Rooted in Reynaldo Clemeña Ileto’s seminal study of popular movements in Filipino history, the initial phase, “Pasión y Revolución,” illuminates the pivotal role of religion in mobilizing the Filipino masses during the 1986 Philippine Revolution, which toppled the 20-year rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Through spirited fabric assemblages reminiscent of Catholic banners, the series depicts the layers of Philippine society, from the fervent folk masses to the dispassionate elites.

Transitioning to the recent past, “Born Again Revolution” reveals a shift in revolutionary fervor with the rise of the Christian Charismatic Renewal Movement. Here, revolution transcends conventional warfare, evolving into a metaphysical struggle persisting beyond colonial and totalitarian regimes. In the third phase, “West Philippine Revolution” Roldan’s inquiry extends to present-day concerns, addressing ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea. Working with Chinese blankets sourced from his hometown of Roxas, Philippines, the artist infuses ancient poetry with modern significance, symbolically staking claim to contested waters to embody a revolution through words.

A series of embroidered artworks, titled “Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers, and angry gods,” capture some of the earliest iterations of Roldan’s 25-year exploration of textile assemblage. The series features vibrant patadyongs, the traditional woven textiles of the Indigenous communities of Roldan’s home province of Capiz in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Infused with the epic chants of the Panay Suludnon people, these artworks pay homage to a community that resisted colonial invaders over three centuries of Spanish rule. By sharing their epics, passed down through generations, the artist amplifies their heritage, now threatened by escalating ecological and economic encroachment.

Presenting a far-reaching narrative of resistance and resilience, How Not to Win a Revolution serves as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Filipino people. By juxtaposing past and present, colonizer and colonized, sacred and profane, Roldan challenges conventional historiography, inviting viewers to engage in speculative reinterpretations to envision new social, political, and cultural possibilities.

The exhibition of How Not to Win a Revolution will coincide with Norberto Roldan’s first visit to New York since 1992. An exhibition walk-through led by Managing Editor of ArtReview and ArtReview Asia, Marv Recinto will take place on Saturday, May 4th starting at 11am.