Posted by: nastypen | October 31, 2008

The Angry Christ

Addie and I are now in Bacolod.  To get here, Addie picked me up at 5am and drove across the island of Cebu to reach the western coast and took a barge to Escalante, Negros Occidental.  The rain was steady and the roads were a strain of muddy potholes.  We drove across miles and miles of sugar cane plantations, passed by mansions with delusions American Confederate South grandeur.  All the lush sugar canes and countless sakadas or workers led us to a church inside one of the biggest plantations with a Christ with piercing eyes and a contemptuous smugness.  And it was beautiful.

It is quite difficult to find the Church with the Angry Christ in Victorias, Negros Occidental.  The locals we asked did not know what it was exactly.  But eventually, we passed by lots with huge trucks carrying sugar canes.  Workers with shirts on their heads to shield both sun and rain trudge on.

An arch welcomes us to a plantation boasting of international standards.  Did those standards improve workers’ lives?  The workers bent backs are still the same from the harsh critical social realist paintings that exploded in this corner of the Visayas.

There was a security checkpoint at the Victorias Milling Company.  We tell the guards we are here to see the Angry Christ.  The guards mull over asking us what will we do there.  Perhaps to pray?  Perhaps to see Ossorio’s beautiful mural?  Perhaps to take pictures?

The guard mumbles that taking photos is disallowed because of the VIPs of the compound.  That label: VIP… just reeks of the culmination of political history of Negros based on stringent social stratification with proletariat anger and elite delusions….perhaps this blatant thrashing with the VIP label has produced the Angry Christ?

I have always wanted to see in person the mural by Alfonso Ossorio.  This artist who went to America to study and find his voice and vision, went back to paint this explosion of colors and have the central figure of Christ in blood red with a contained steady contempt or anger emanating from his eyes.

Whispers among art historians claim that Ossorio was a friend of the splatter artist Jackson Pollock and perhaps there may be a Pollock tucked somewhere in a tired corner of a mansion.  This is a place in the Visayas with old trains that used to carry sugar canes have been relegated as lawn ornaments for the rich, I wouldn’t be a surprised if these families have great artworks for their own personal enjoyment.

We cross a bridge and look for the church.  There is a large vat at one side which is the “Water softener.”

The church is at the end of the avenue named after the muralist Ossorio who clearly was influenced by Mexican social realist mural painters like Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera.

I was still pissed at the dropping the “VIP’s only” label.  I barged into the Church looking for a person of authority.  I went into the priest’s changing quarters and an assistant was baffled by my whirlwind entrance.  I asked sweetly if we can take pictures.  He said there was nothing wrong with it.

The mural is deliciously opulent with colors and details.  The angry Christ wears red which is unheard of in Western Christian Art.  Christ steps on a serpent with a grinning skull as he outstretches his arms with gleaming wounds.  Giant hands support the Christ figure as torrents of colors and details spill over the walls to the ceiling.

The art surrounding the church portrays saints as brown-skinned and proletariat. The via crucis or stations of the cross are an indictment against fascism in which military figures crucify the working class hero Jesus Christ.  St. Joseph the worker holds a hammer and saw. There is a brown Madonna in Filipiniana attire. Another mural shows a comic strip or sequential art telling the story of the prodigal son.

It is beautiful to see the holy images that are reminiscent of the proletariat.  We have been bombarded by the images of the Holy Family and apostles looking well-fed with smooth Caucasian skin when historically they are of the working class with gnarled feet and tired faces.

Another assistant of the church came up to us and told us to look behind the church.  The murals at the back of the Church show the apostles in Visayan peasant clothing.  The Holy Spirit looks like the mythical sarimanok as tongues of fire (in the form of the naga or snake that is found in Muslim architecture in the country) engulf the Apostles.

One sculpture of the Crucified Christ does not follow the typical configuration of a bearded long-haired Christ in Agony.

This Christ is clean shaven with the skin color of the Filipinos with laurel leaves circle his head instead of a crown of thorns.  His nose is not Caucasian.  His eyes are not Semetic.  Who does he look like?

How ironic that such icons of proletariat empowerment is at the very heart of the largest sugar mill in Asia.  Locals know this as the Church of St. Joseph the Worker which is hilariously pegged inside a compound that represented a social system that has abused workers and only appreciate VIPs.

Perhaps it is apt that the Angry Christ is here because of the countless labor violations wrought upon by a system in love of a romanticized feudal hierarchy.  All these riches from the shoulders of many into the hands of the few as the elite invoke Christ’s protection over their wealth and properties and seek more material accumulation should irk Christ himself.

There was a simple wedding ceremony that day. The people who attended came in jeepneys and indicated that they are not of the Western Visayan Blue Blood.  The bride clearly was too small for her borrowed gown. The wedding coordinator is a tired looking homosexual with a proper bouffant. The family lines up to greet the bride as she walks to the alter with the Angry Christ about to embrace this union.

Click here for more pictures of the Angry Christ.

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