Hiding in Plain Sight at Arte Bettina


Hiding in Plain Sight
Texts by Marz Aglipay

In contemporary art, one of the most intriguing themes is the idea of hidden identities. This subject has captivated poets and artists for centuries, and it remains relevant today as we grapple with privacy, surveillance, and the very nature of oneself.

Hiding in Plain Sight is a collection of works that delves into the compositional technique of obscuring or hiding the faces of subjects and figures in paintings. The artists Emmanuel Miranda, Bryan Teves, Gino Nagret, Wencyl Mallari, Daniel Aliagen, and Chojoh who are known for their exceptional skills in rendering portraits and figures, lend their perspectives on the idea of anonymity as a means to explore the complexities of identity in the modern world.

Social identity theory helps us make sense of this idea. Say for example, when we meet someone new, we automatically categorize them into different social groups based on their appearance, behavior, and other cues. We then use our knowledge of these groups to form personas about the people we meet. These personas are often based on stereotypes and generalizations, and they can lead us to overlook the unique qualities of individuals.

We see others differently depending on whether we are interacting with them as a friend, a colleague, or a stranger. Take Gino Nagret's "Two Become One" for example.  Nagret touches on the idea of how personas are shaped through the influence of the people in our immediate surroundings. The level of intimacy we share with other people can vastly affect how we see ourselves.

There are also works that challenge our assumptions of people. Emmanuel Miranda's reflections in the work "Homage to Vincent Van Gogh's “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” revisits how Van Gogh was greatly misunderstood when he was alive. It was through constant inquiry and research into his life that we are now able to appreciate him as a revered artist with a kind soul who tried his best to cope with a troubled mind.

There are instances when we see someone differently depending on our cultural background and values. Chojo's work in this exhibition is informed by Japanese culture where he observes modesty through the simple gesture of turning one's back or the use of masks that have historically been used in theaters, allowing actors to take on a new persona or to simply express themselves differently.

Bryan Teves' portraits of cowering figures in "Meraki" and "Torn" deliver a visceral depiction of being overwhelmed that can be gathered from the way the body parts on both figures tense up. This can be chalked up to how we react when we are threatened by the social forces that shape our identities. These works respectively reflect on the idea of longing and the agony that women typically experience when the illusion of an idealized partner is broken. These poses may also be a way to express the feeling of being invisible or ignored as if one is hiding in plain sight.

The result of all of this is that we often gloss over the essential bits of a person's character when we first meet them. When we busy ourselves with categorizing people and forming personas about them, we forget to see them as individuals.

The concept of hidden identities in art serves as a reminder that one's identity is not fixed or static. It is an ever-evolving construct, constantly being shaped and reshaped. 

Hiding in Plain Sight is on view at Arte Bettina from November 14 to 23, 2023


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