Kayab Pagsaka: Martin Genodepa’s Installation Art

By: Lucell Larawan

Memory can be daunting, yet making it tell its story is what can heal us and make us human. This is what Martin Genodepa presents to commemorate Yolanda through his installation art entitled, “Kayab Pagsaka” at the Arts and Science Grounds of UP Visayas Tacloban College in Tacloban, Leyte. This project is a UP Visayas Creative Work Grant.

In lieu of skulls and crosses, the artist uses a different visual idiom: colored blanket with both ends tied to a bamboo pole. Using GI wire, he suspends together twelve of these near the roof, arrayed in various elevations and alignments, to suggest their utility in our culture—primarily to transport disabled or dead relatives and friends. For the sculptor, however, his installation art is primarily a funeral cortege which he saw years ago: the dead wrapped in a sawali and transported on the shoulders of two lifters. With his evocation, Genodepa is not content with depicting just another mass grave nearby such as what I saw when I visited Leyte months after the tragedy. Making one weep like the time of the tragedy is never redeeming; it is only debilitating. Thus, the artist gives another alternative view which leads us to reflect that the dead makes a journey to the afterlife and do not remain forever in their graves. This makes the bereaved raise his hopes after the mourning, transcending together with the dead, from the burden of sorrow to a realm beyond what he knows.

This symbolism somehow aligns with the thought-provoking quote of Saint Paul (in the Bible): “If only for this life we have this hope, we are to be pitied among all men.” This hope, awakened and aligned, makes us see that our circumstances—even the worst that kills—can still result in bliss. With this idea, one famous saying lingers: “we all want to go to heaven, but none of us want to die.” Such a realization!

The empty blankets—no more corpses inside—also tell about what has already happened: that the dead are no longer haunting our memories. Instead, they have already been carried in gentle hands while the hopefuls have risen above the valley of pain.

Genodepa’s installation art opened with several performances and poetry reading graced by National Artist Ramon Santos, and former Chancellor of UP Mindanao and top poet Ricky de Ungria. These luminaries participated in the candle lighting that was part of the performance ritual done by UPV Tacloban students.

Genodepa had worked as an artist-teacher and cultural worker. He currently sits as the Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Development of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas. The sculptor bagged the UP Artist 1 for 2018-2020 (an award for productivity in art).