Shortlists offer thematic selections from AAA’s Collection, including overviews and annotations by invited contributors. The following shortlist by artist and writer Ringo Bunoan focuses on the rise and fall of the art periodical scene in the Philippines, from the 1970s to 2000s.
This shortlist gathers art periodicals by government cultural agencies, artists, and independent publishers in the Philippines from the 1970s to 2000s, which serve as accessible reference material on the development of modern and contemporary art in the Philippines.
During martial law (1972 to 1981), one of the first orders of then president Ferdinand Marcos was to seize and control all privately owned newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, and other media companies. Through his first Letter of Instruction, he effectively ended an era described as the Golden Age of Philippine journalism, when the Filipino press was considered the “freest in Asia.” Writers, journalists, publishers, and other members of the country’s intelligentsia who were critical of Marcos were among the first to be abducted and sent to military prisons. Information became strictly regulated and crafted by government agencies, and the few privately owned publications that were allowed to remain in print had no recourse but to cooperate and follow official narratives.
It was during this turbulent and heavily censored period that Philippine art and art publications flourished, supported by Imelda Marcos through her various cultural initiatives. The former first lady recognised the importance of the arts as part of the nation’s development and instituted a cultural policy based on her ideals of the “goodness, truth, and beauty” of the Filipinos. Aware of the powerful role of cultural production and media in the dissemination of propaganda, she commissioned artists and writers to cast the Marcoses as the heroic patrons of a Philippine new society.
Envisioned as the nation’s premier institution for culture and the arts, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which opened in 1969, is the country’s first world-class venue showcasing the best of Philippine music, dance, theatre, film, literature, design, and visual arts. The iconic, modernist building—rising from reclaimed land along the breakwaters of Manila Bay—served as the cornerstone of the Marcos’ larger cultural master plan of promoting Philippine art to both local and international audiences.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the CCP not only mounted numerous exhibitions, performances, and events by local and foreign artists, it also produced important publications on Philippine art and culture. Such publications included coffee-table books, monographs, exhibition catalogues, magazines, and journals, all of which contributed to greater public awareness of the arts. Among the many titles published by CCP, magazines focusing on the various aspects of Philippine art include Pamana, Kultura, Marks, and Philippine Art Supplement. Pamana and Kultura covered a variety of artistic fields and topics, while Marks and Philippine Art Supplement focused on the visual arts and were produced under the direction of artist Ray Albano, the then head of CCP’s visual arts department. Another government-funded periodical in circulation during this time was Archipelago. Billed as the international magazine of the Philippines, it served to promote Philippine art, culture, and history to foreign readers.
The unprecedented state support for the arts during the Marcos period spurred the development of new audiences and bolstered the local art market. More than thirty new private art galleries and four public and private museums reportedly opened in Manila between 1970 and 1979. At a time when there were so many civil rights and liberties being curtailed, Filipino artists were given high status in society. Of significance was the creation of the National Artist Award, first given to classical painter Fernando Amorsolo in 1972, the same year as the imposition of martial law in the country. While many artists benefited from the patronage of the Marcoses, however, they excluded a significant portion of the art community, particularly those who depicted and critiqued the social injustices brought on by the regime. This exclusion lead to the formation of artists’ protest groups, such as Nagkakaisang Progresibong Artista at Arkitekto (“United Progressive Artists and Architects”) and the artist collective Kaisahan (“Solidarity”).
Independent publishing persisted in the 1970s and 1980s despite state censorship and media clampdown. Privately funded publications such as Ermita and San Juan were produced and circulated by the art and literary circles in Manila. First published in 1976 by Boy Yuchengco, with Alfred A. Yuson as editor, Ermita described itself as an “alternative newspaper” and a “community publication” featuring art, literature, and counterculture. Along the same lines, San Juan was the “liberated bimonthly magazine of art,” published in the 1980s by artist Agnes Arellano’s The Pinaglabanan Galleries. Both magazines featured art and cultural events in the city, as well as more alternative happenings and esoteric topics not covered by mainstream publications. After martial law was lifted in 1981 by Marcos, the press regained their freedom and many privately owned broadsheets and newspapers opened or resumed operations, including Philippine Free Press, The Manila Chronicle, and The Manila Times, all of which carry regular reviews, features, and listings about art.
The Marcos regime ended in 1986, after the People Power Revolution ousted the dictator and his family and propelled Corazon Aquino into the presidency, the widow of one of Marcos’ staunchest critics Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. Under the new Aquino administration, the government made sweeping democratic reforms, including the drafting of new cultural policies. The CCP remained an important venue for exhibitions and performances, but its role as a state cultural agency was greatly diminished and transferred to a newly formed Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts (PCCA), which would become the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Formally inaugurated in 1992 during the presidency of Fidel Ramos, the NCCA started a new era in democratisation in Philippine art. Mandated to support the development of a “pluralistic culture” and to “integrate traditional culture as a dynamic part of the national mainstream,” it enforced a shift towards the “Filipinisation” of the country’s museums and cultural policies. Around the same time, the newly formed Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), where many of the country’s eminent art critics and writers were based, changed their curriculum to include the “creative endeavors of marginalized Philippine communities as well as popular art forms.” Art books and exhibition catalogues, which were usually written in English, now included Filipino translations. State support was also given to new research and art projects outside Metro Manila, prioritising the art of the regions.
Pananaw: Philippine Journal of Visual Arts was first released in 1997 by Pananaw ng Sining Bayan, an independent initiative that grew out of the NCCA’s Visual Arts Committee. Represented by Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, member of the faculty of the UP Department of Art Studies, the journal features critical analyses of various Philippine contemporary art practices. Another independent non-profit magazine, Transit, was initiated in 1999 by the artist Jose Tence Ruiz. Edited by Patrick Flores, it was conceived as a quarterly forum for Philippine contemporary art. Its small format made it more accessible and affordable than Pananaw, but it was short-lived due to lack of funding.
By the end of the 1990s, amidst the financial crisis that greatly impacted the Asian region, Philippine art publications became extremely limited and almost a rarity. Because of the high cost of production and small readership, it was financially challenging for many publishers to print art books. Even periodicals, which are less costly to produce than books, are difficult to sustain without an adequate audience and funding, whether from government or private sources.
While major broadsheets such as Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, BusinessWorld, and mainstream commercial publications, including the art and lifestyle magazine Art+, continue to feature art, they are more often promotional writings prepared by galleries rather than critical reviews. The distribution and accessibility of scholarly or more informed art writing has been confined largely within academic circles and art communities through journals and other specialised niche publications. The transition to digital platforms around the turn of the century have proposed challenges as well as possibilities in the production and dissemination of information on contemporary art in the Philippines; an example is Ctrl+P, an online journal initiated by artists Judy Sibayan and Varsha Nair and feminist art historian Flaudette May Datuin in 2006.
Albano, Raymundo, and Johnny Manahan, eds. Marks. Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 1974–1976. [English] (not yet available)
Cruz, Lorenzo J. Archipelago: The International Magazine of the Philippines. Bureau of National and Foreign Information and the Department of Public Information, Manila, 1974–1980. [English] PER.RCH
Flores, Patrick, ed. Transit: A Quarterly of Art Discussion. Creative Collective Inc., Manila, 1999–2000. [English] PER.TRAN
Dandan, Giny, ed. Philippine Art Supplement. Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 1980–1982. [English] PER.PHAS
Hufana, Alejandrino G. Pamana. Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 1971–1979. [English] (not yet available)
Legaspi-Ramirez, Eileen, ed. Pananaw: Philippine Journal of Visual Arts. National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Pananaw ng Sining ng Bayan, Manila, 1997–2014. [English] PER.PAN
Lumbera, Bienvenido. Kultura. Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila, 1988–1993. [English/Filipino] PER.KUL
Osental, Duffie Hufana, ed. Art+. Southeast Asian Heritage Publications Inc., Manila, 2008–present. [English] PER.CAP
Yuson, Alfred A., ed. Ermita. Mushroom Media, Manila, 1976–. [English] (not yet available)
Yuson, Alfred A. et al., eds. San Juan: The Liberated Bimonthly Magazine of Art. Pinaglabanan Galleries, Manila, 1985–. [English] PER.SAJ
Ringo Bunoan is an artist, independent curator, writer, and co-founder of artbooks.ph.
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