Manila

View of “Pio Abad,” 2022. Photo: At Maculangan.

View of “Pio Abad,” 2022. Photo: At Maculangan.

Pio Abad

Taking Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos as his primary subjects, Pio Abad investigates the myriad ways material culture speaks to economies of authoritarianism and kleptocracy. Spanning almost ten years of the artist’s practice, “Fear of Freedom Makes Us See Ghosts” was a homecoming of sorts for the Manila-born, mostly London-based Abad. The exhibition opened weeks before the Philippine national election that saw a Marcos return to political power as the late Filipino dictator’s scion, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., won the presidency. Abad’s practice is two-pronged: He gathers evidence of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth and enacts performative exorcisms of the mythologies that surround the family. Taking inventory is an impulse that guides his process. The exhibition opened with a mise-en-scène: a life-size wallpaper reproduction of a photograph of the empty presidential office immediately after the dictator’s ouster in 1986—a sort of monument to his purged presence.

An expansive and iterative project was at the center of the exhibition. Its title, The Collection of Jane Ryan & William Saunders, 2014–, refers to the aliases that Ferdinand and Imelda used for the Swiss bank accounts where they safeguarded much of their laundered money; the work explores the various collections that the couple acquired over their two-decade rule. In one of the most recent articulations of the work, the artist itemized the Samuels Collection—a Manhattan mansion’s worth of furniture, pottery, and other ornaments accumulated by New York philanthropist Leslie R. Samuels—which Imelda Marcos bought in its entirety. Abad painstakingly drew these objects in ink, faithfully documenting each facet and flourish of every artifact. A 2014 version of the ongoing work features photographic documentation of the Marcoses’ array of silverware mounted on thin aluminum sheets. In another iteration of the work, dated 2014–20, the artist printed postcard reproductions of Imelda’s collection of old masters, which visitors to the exhibition in Manila were invited to take. Both troves of objects were seized by the Presidential Commission on Good Government in 1986 and subsequently auctioned off by Christie’s. The translation of paintings to postcards might seem democratizing but Abad also accentuates the fetishized quality of the objects from the Samuels Collection with his intricate ink-drawing technique, as well as that of the gaudy silverware by way of the sheen of the images’ aluminum mounting.

Perhaps the most compelling edition of the work is a collaboration between Abad and his wife, jewelry designer Frances Wadsworth Jones. The two artists set their sights on Imelda’s jewelry collection, which was confiscated by customs officials in Hawaii upon the couple’s arrival on the island as they went into exile. Abad and Wadsworth-Jones cast earrings, necklaces, and brooches in 3D-printed plastic filament: washed-out stand-ins for the brilliant baubles they represent. The duo also rendered the collection in augmented reality, allowing anyone with a smartphone to access and virtually place the jewelry in their own surroundings. The last room of the gallery contained a series of abstract paintings dedicated to the memory of people who fought against the dictatorship. In them, abstraction becomes a language of remembrance, as each color and shape bears the weight of the life of a politician, community organizer, or student who struggled against the Marcos regime. Bookending the exhibition, the emptied office and these memorials of activists were subtly hopeful proposals for the recasting of history by succeeding generations.