The Babes of John Silao

9 - 25 JUNE 2016

  • Not quite mine, and not quite anyone else’s John Silao’s babes are from an era we all think we know. It is a period of a particular palette; of snakes, nipples and cowboy hats; of the cheeky excesses of camp and the artifice of glam. We can all insist that we know (or knew) the 80’s but who, really, can claim to know the babes of Silao?

    Nostalgic and decadent, the photographs today look like they’re from a recent past but also feel ever- present. The clothes, the gesticulations, the names we somehow recognize are all strangely, awkwardly familiar. 

    Most of the babes are real-life princesses: women meant to be heard of but not seen up-close .The intimacy these photographs provide becomes opportunity and privilege for us mere mortals. A protraction of the great, “imperial tradition” of portraiture, these women tell us that they can never really be ours or, rather, we can never really be them. They are delicate surfaces teasing us amidst lens flares and soft lighting isolated, static and inert in their little boxes. They do not wound.

  • Moreover, they exist oblivious not only of us but also of the rest of the 80’s — People Power, Mendiola, the Cold War, AIDS, MV Dona Paz, the rise of neoliberalism — events that marked the past and the familiar present. The photographs expunge and actively conceal what made the decade so influential and instrumental to the violence and conflict we live in today. Luxuriating in an orchestrated celebration of wealth, fetish and fabulousness, the babes remain floating, suspended in time.

    Perhaps nothing brings this across more clearly than the collage of black and white snapshots from the Manila International Film Festival — the Marcosian “Cannes of Asia”. In this suite of images, affect (dating) is everything. Here is Imelda smiling, greeting her coterie. Here is the back of her flowing Terno.  And here she is at the center, right arm raised, mouth slightly open, palm pressed against George Hamilton’s left palm as they pause in the middle of a waltz. Nearly complete, she asks for nothing. We can almost hear her sigh.