The Filipino artist winning raves at the Venice Biennale


The 58th Venice Biennale international art exhibition held at The Venice Giardini parkland in Italy. The exhibition, also known as Art Biennale, opened its doors May 11, 2019 and Filipino artist, Mark Justiniani, a Bacolod-born contemporary artist, is gaining the attention of international media for his work.

The art exhibit’s theme this year is called, “May you live in interesting times,” an expression spoken ironically to mean living in chaos and uncertainty.

Justiniani, who is an Arts Education graduate from the University of the Philippines (UP) – Diliman, represented the Philippines with his work, “Island Weather.” He describes as an immersive installation that goads the observer to look deeper into the country’s condition: the literal weather (typhoons), the effects of its history, and its cultural evolution.

The artwork was curated by Tessa Maria Guazon, an Art Studies assistant professor at UP – Diliman.

Well-known to employ reflective medium to create the illusion of repetition or infinity, Justiniani created glass-covered pieces shaped like islands. As guests mount each piece, they find themselves looking down on a cylindrical chasm. Its inner surface is seemingly packed with everyday objects that help paint an image of the Philippines: books, rocks, slippers, plants, lanterns reminiscent of the Spanish colonial era, etc.

The paper Financial Times added Justiniani’s installation in their list of favored picks—among works from 79 artists. Stated in the article, “The top five national pavilions at the Venice Biennale,” Jackie Wullschläger wrote, “You feel as if you are gazing towards the bottom of the sea, to excavated treasures arranged in wondrous, strange patterns. Vertigo-inducing, intoxicating. Bring it to Tate Modern.”

The Tate Modern in London is one of the largest museums of contemporary art.

Artsy as well, one of the top online resources for the arts, was also impressed. In their article, “The Venice Biennale’s 10 Best Pavilions in the Arsenale and Giardini,” writer Casey Lesser described their choices as “the 10 most dynamic and captivating pavilions.”

Justiniani is a quintessential representative for the Philippines being adedicated observer of social realities. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, he joined artist initiatives that promote social activism: Abay (Artista ng Bayan), Sanggawa, and the Salingpusa art group which also counts Elmer Borlongan, and Tony Leaño, among its members.

Justiniani was also a receiver of the prestigious Thirteen Artists awards recognition given every three years by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The Venice Biennale is the first biennale, which is an international contemporary art exhibition held once every two years. It had its first show in 1895, and is run by an arts organization now called Biennale Foundation. Previous representatives from the Philippines since it rejoined in 2014  after years of absence include Manuel Ocampo, Lani Maestro, Manny Montelibano and Jose Tence Ruiz.

“Island Weather” is on exhibit until November 24, 2019.

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