Arnold Bornios: At a “Crossroads” at Kulay-Diwa
“A man’s ethnic identity has more to do with personal awareness than with geography.” – William Saroyan
Mestizar is the Spanish word for the verb “to crossbreed”. Thus a country such as ours, having endured centuries of colonization under Spanish and American colonizers. The word mestiza or mestizo has been very much a part of our native vocabulary. Spanish and American and Chinese mestizas and mestizos, born of mixed parentage, have, in fact, become the staple celebrities in our entertainment industry. Understandably, Filipinos take great vicarious pride when entertainers of Filipino descent become international celebrities. To name a few of recent vintage: Jessica Sanchez, Nicole Scherzinger, and Bruno Mars, son of a Filipino-Spanish mother who used to live in the Philippines before migrating to Hawaii. Bruno’s real name is Peter Gene Bayot Hernandez. Isn’t that Filipino enough for you? But there’s another species of crossbreeding that may not be as glamorous as possessing mestizo physiognomic features of the white race. This is not the crossbreeding of races but of cultures. We refer to those who were either born in their native land or born abroad, but raised and educated within an American or European culture. While they are of Malay racial origin, their way of thinking and living are clearly those of the West. There are those of course who choose or prefer not to acknowledge this racial origin, as in those who try to “pass for white.” But admirably, there are some who, not only will not deny their other ancestral country, but would even seek out their roots through an adventure in search of one’s identity.
One such person is the Fil-Am artist Arnold Bornios, who has been in the country for the past couple of years, taking up his Masters in Fine Arts at the State University. Like Bruno Mars, Arnold was born in Hawaii, of Ilocano parentage. The case of Arnold brings to mind the recently published book by the prestigious house, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, titled “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self.” The author, with a resoundingly Pinoy name, is Alex Tizon, who writes, “When I was twenty-nine, I flew to the island of Cebu in the Philippines to watch a fight.”
Also in search of his Asian self is Arnold who is holding a solo exhibition of his works at Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Contemporary Art. Interestingly, Mr. Bobbit Nolasco, proprietor of the gallery, discovered Arnold’s works through Facebook, that supernal space where all of humanity’s lives intersect at the right and essential time.
Appropriately, Bornios’ show is titled “Crossroads.” The works are the visual journal, literally wrought large, (extending up to fourteen feet!), of his confrontation with, and celebration of, his Other Self. Living in the country of his ancestor’s birth, Bornios finds himself, as the exhibition notes manifestly express, both “observer and participant.” It is an experience that partakes of a physical and psychic bilocation, like shedding one’s skin or stepping out of one’s mind, and yet, at the same time, existing within the same unshakeable persona.
One must start with Bornio’s self-portrait, as stark a statement as one can make to proclaim one’s identity. It is a most revealing work, which tells us almost instantly the state of confusion and rebellion, acceptance and resignation. Intriguingly, the work is constructed with a grid-like structure, with the artist’s visage suggestively behind bars, certainly evocative of imprisonment. Whether conscious or unconscious on his part, the artist yields himself through his art and melancholic eyes. Emotion, after all, is not an impenetrable wall.
There are works that allude to his childhood. “Passage” references his fascination with boats and cargoes, precolonial Filipinos and Hawaiians being seafaring peoples. “Treasure Chest,” a serial pile-up of identical boxes studded with knobs, reverberates with echoes of his childhood home, where, as Bornios shares, the dressers were the first evidence of his crayon-encrusted artworks.
Memories of his views of Metro Manila’s bustling and frenetic energy, with the city’s overwhelming sense of chaos and disorder, have seeped deeply in “Causeways and Byways,” where the artist, atop a pell-mell tumble of rising edifices shrouded in a grey-smogged atmosphere, emerges, as if coming up for air. Stunning is the word for “Crossroads,” stretching panoramically across the gallery wall. It is constructed architecturally as a juxtaposition of jagged geometric forms and color-filled boulders, battling between earth tones and sharply blazing colors, with their jazzy field of movement, seeming to sail away, despite the heavy and muscular brushwork. Similarly, a work like “Street Walk” is like an open book, with incomplete inscriptions as fragments of the words “Filipino” and American.” A fetching work is “Muse,” which one can only assume is the Fil-Am lady to whom the artist is engaged.
In 2016, Arnold Bornios shall have finished his MFA at UP, and in all likelihood, will return to Hawaii. Will he again be a part of Manila’s art scene, having already made friends with other artists during his stay in the country, or will his sojourn in Manila, in search of his Asian self, be but a memory in the larger history of a life ahead of him? Indeed, another crossroads await Fil-Am artist Arnold Bornios.