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Sandra Dan's Iconolatria

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Sandra Dans is a photographer and a visual artist who graduated from the College of Fine Arts in the University of the Philippines Diliman and took a Master’s degree in Photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong. She already had numerous exhibits both locally and internationally. These include Iconolatria which was already exhibited in Hong Kong and is currently at the UP Vargas Museum.

Her exhibit, Iconolatria, at the UP Vargas Museum started on March 29, 2016 and will run until April 30. The title is an Italian word which translates into Iconology or ‘the worship of images’. This was also an issue in the early church because images were usually abused by an individual by worshipping images that served as an inspiration or direction of devotion. These images are said to be venerated instead of being worshipped. With the title and its etymology, it already gives us a hint as to what the exhibit is about and what it is highlighting. The exhibit showcases her expertise in photography and features three of her projects in the said field namely “Mga Santong Kanto”, “I Am” and “Stampitas”.

The projects revolve around the idea of sanctifying and venerating things or images that are far away from what most of us traditionally or religiously do. Rather than seeing photographs of saints or sacred icons, which we usually see and worship, appropriations of these with different subjects are displayed. “Mga Santong Kanto” is a display of photographs where men are seen possessing feminine characteristics, which defies masculinity in a Filipino perspective, and are somehow styled as holy figures. According to the description of the project “I Am”, it is a series of self-portraits of the artist herself that examines self-representation in the digital age as a “sanctifying” practice. Opposite the displayed self-portraits are portraits of Jorge Vargas. The artist, Sandra Dans, through the set-up of these, tries to explain and emphasize the difference between a self-portrait and portrait of an individual. A self-portrait is a photograph where the artist or the creator is also the subject or the creation while a portrait is a photograph made by another person. Most works in the first two projects illustrate a technique called chiaroscuro that uses strong and bold contrast to put emphasis on the subject and add dramatic or emotional effect to the work. “Stampitas” coincides with the main theme of the exhibit which are cards that may have been seen as parodies of prayer cards of saints whose main aim is to remind us of divinity in our everyday life. As said in the description found in the exhibit, these three projects describe the plight of the digital devotee, still caught in a struggle to avoid the trap of narcissistic iconolatry.

The exhibit is eye-catching and at the same time, thought-provoking. A factor for this is the way the exhibit was set up. From the frames hung on the wall as one climbs the stairs to the arrangement of the photographs in the room increases the probability of the viewer to notice “Mga Santong Kanto” which is similar to the previous exhibit that says “Dear Artist, How Much are You Worth?”. I think the contrast in the images itself and the images and the white wall is what makes the body of work recognizable. More importantly, the subject of these works are strange enough for it to be distinct and thought about. It is thought-provoking in a sense that it makes you curious as to why the men are in such style and pose or in other words, feminized. At first glance, I thought they were gays but when I looked closer and for a longer period of time, it didn’t seem they were. Later on, I realized during the talk we had with Sandra Dans, that one of her main objective is to confront and debunk the practice of idealization and stereotyping, particularly, in viewing art. As an example, the thought of them being gay can be explained or traced through the traditional sanctification. What do we usually sanctify? The answer is sacred icons. The most common of all is Marian sanctification where Mary, a female, is being sanctified therefore, creating an image that women are the icon or symbol of sanctification and as well as making it look like that sanctification is a feminizing force. Thus, transforming the meaning of the work when associated with reality. The issue with this and what the artist is trying to convey is that we should break the automatized modes of seeing by keeping an open mind especially if you want to think and interpret things critically.

Another part of the exhibit is “I Am” which I find most interesting among the three because of the way she associated herself with holy figures. If someone holy were to see the art, he or she may see it as an insult to the religion and may be even seen as a form of blasphemy. But that is not a problem for

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