The Catholic church has long understood the power of beauty. The use of ritual, music, art, and design are central parts of their worship. Norberto Roldan also recognizes beauty’s power. The Filipino artist transfers religious vestments and liturgical objects to gallery settings, using them to spark discussion on their meaning and place in the context of a post-colonial society ruled by the church for hundreds of years. These spiritual objects are repurposed in the pursuit of empirical truths.
说起天主教堂对美学力量的领悟，可能要追溯到很久以前。无论仪式、音乐、艺术还是设计，这些都属于天主教崇拜核心的一部分。来自菲律宾的 Norberto Roldan 也同样认知到美的力量。在教会统治数百年的后殖民社会背景之下，这位艺术家将祭服和礼仪用品搬到画廊里，利用这种手法引发关于其意义和地位的讨论。这些具有宗教精神象征的物件，在追寻经验真理的过程中被重新定义。
In one installation, a confessional is outfitted with a wooden saint statue in a glass case, a goat skull, and a bottle of pampa regla, which is an illegal abortion cocktail used in the Philippines, where abortion in any form is illegal. In another pair of pieces, twin cases hold vestments and are outfitted with warm neon lights that spell out the words “salvation” and “heretic” in Tagalog. “The church has long used rituals and objects to conquer people; this is my way of reverting that power back to the people,” Roldan explains. “I’m giving the church a taste of their own medicine. If you’ve used this against us, maybe we can use it against you.”
Roldan has thought deeply about power imbalances and religion in his many former lives over the 67 years he’s been around. He studied in a seminary for eight years beginning at 11 years old, ultimately deciding against priesthood. He also helped run a farm that his wife inherited, where he was exposed to labor and land rights issues. As a result of this hands-on education, he dedicated the next part of his life to leftist activist movements during the late period of martial law in the 1980s, necessitating a self-exile in Australia for a couple of years.
在过往 67 年中，罗丹始终在深思权力失衡和宗教议题。他从 11 岁开始在神学院学习了 8 年，最终决定不当神父。他帮助妻子经营一个继承下来的农场，在那里直面了劳工和土地权利争议。受到这种际遇的影响，他将下半生献给了1980年代戒严后期的左派激进主义运动，还因此必须在澳大利亚自我流放好几年。
Although he still identifies as Catholic, Roldan no longer practices. He argues that criticism of the church is different from attacking it. “Even the pope has been critical of the Catholic church,” he says. “If you realize that poor people here have been conditioned to accept that they were meant to be poor, then religion has done nothing to help them better their lives.”
The Philippines was colonized by Spain in the 1500s and was under its control for 300 years. They introduced Catholicism to the country and it was an integral part of maintaining their power structure from the start. Today, around 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholic. But Roldan argues that it’s more complicated than that simple statistic, with many rural Filipinos practicing dual faiths. The animism common among indigenous populations worldwide retains a foothold alongside Catholicism in the Philippines to this day.
菲律宾在十六世纪被西班牙殖民，并受其控制长达 300 年。打从一开始西班牙人就将天主教传入该国，以成为当权者维持权力结构不可或缺的一环。如今，约80％的菲律宾人都信奉天主教。但罗丹认为情况远比单单的统计数字更为复杂，因为有许多菲律宾农村居民都奉行双重信仰。普遍存在于世界各地土著居民的万物有灵论，至今仍与天主教一起在菲律宾稳固立足。
Since he uses actual religious objects in his artwork, Roldan acknowledges there may be ethical concerns in repurposing them. Many of them were inherited from his uncle, who was a priest. Although Roldan never became a priest himself, his family gave him permission to use them. Many of the other objects were sourced from thrift stores, which he cleared out as quickly as possible. “I found a couple of shops with them and bought everything. But how were they able to acquire them? They might have been stolen.”
He says that these objects of worship are inherently beautiful, which loans them a lot of their power, so only minimal alterations are required. “All of them were imported from Italy and they’re not being manufactured anymore; you don’t need to do anything to make them more beautiful,” he says. “But you need to change the context to subvert the original purpose of the object and make it your own. I’m very, very careful not to bastardize them.”
Roldan’s artwork doesn’t stop at criticisms of the church. He often denounces the American colonization of the Philippines, which lasted for a century, ending with World War II. Most of the country’s institutions are modeled on American ones. In Crazy Horse and White Love, he highlights historical violence against Filipinos by Americans and questions its continued pursuit of military dominance beyond its borders. As the world enters a new age with new global powers and tensions, Roldan plans on addressing them as they unfold: “It’s the artist’s responsibility to be a part of society,” he says. “We’re not here just to create art but also to provide help to the less fortunate. If you work in isolation, what good is that? What is your art for? What are you for?”
罗丹的艺术作品没有止步于对教会的批评，他也经常谴责美国对于菲律宾持续一个世纪、直到第二次世界大战才结束的殖民统治，菲律宾多数建设机构都是以美国为蓝本。在《Crazy Horse and White Love》里，他强调了美国人对菲律宾人的历史暴力，并质疑美国在超越其国界的地方不断寻求军事主导的野心。随着世界进入新时代，全球新势力和紧张局势不断升温发展，罗丹计划在问题揭露的当下就指出：“将自己置身在社会中是艺术家的责任。”他说，“我们不只是为了创造艺术而生，而是为了向那些不幸的人伸出援手。如果你孤立地创作，那有什么好处？你的艺术为何存在？你又为何存在？”
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Contributor: Mike Steyels
Photographer: Jilson Tiu
Chinese Translation: Yang Yixuan
Additional Images Courtesy of Norberto Roldan
供稿人: Mike Steyels
摄影师: Jilson Tiu
英译中: Yang Yixuan
附加图片由 Norberto Roldan 提供