By Hannah Jo Uy
Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta
“I’ve always created pieces based on my current mood,” said Hadrian Mendoza. “Sometimes these moods are based on shapes, forms, landscapes, sunsets, sunrises, or political situations.”
The spontaneity in which Hadrian approaches his art making is a far cry from the highly technical and meticulous approach otherwise required by pottery. He manages to strike a careful balance, however, owing to his knowledge and experience both as an artist and educator. Indeed, Mendoza descends from a brotherhood of ancient craftsmen, not by name or blood, but by love and passion. “Pottery is unique because it may be the oldest art form,” he says. “History has shown us, through pottery, the way civilizations lived through functional wares and religious items, such as idols and urns. Pottery is magical. You can take clay from the earth, and use wind, water, and fire to alter the material to create any object, which can last centuries.”
Though life has pulled him across continents, time abroad only further strengthens his desire to contemplate upon his country of origin, seeing the Philippines revived and resurrected as his spirit expanded through sojourns.
“Being abroad, I always reach for home,” Hadrian admits. “It may be by reworking cultural icons, recalling a national sentiment, or even using the colors of the Philippine flag. I think it’s my way of going back to the Philippines, while physically being in Washington D.C. I believe that being abroad pushes me to put heavy cultural undertones in my work. At times, I drop all of this and just make what I feel based on my current environment.”
Being of a sensitive disposition, Hadrian found it difficult to ignore the wave of news surrounding the Philippines, which has, of late, brought the country under international scrutiny. This became the basis of his latest collection, “A Drop of Red,” which opened last month at the Galleria Duemila. The collection, as explained by Mendoza, alludes to the war on drugs and human right violations in the Philippines. “As I’m in the US, my views are based on world news, stories from my relatives in the Philippines, and also the dark images circulating the Internet. So, I identified the issue—EJK (extrajudicial killing). Who are the drug dealers? Pushers? Addicts? All of these have been blurred and anyone can be a target, by rumor or identification.”
This is most evident in the most expansive and, perhaps, most daunting, piece in the collection entitled Pusher. Where a multitude of faces, all seemingly bound together by a common suffering, stare out from the wall, visually elevating the sheer scale and number of people who are being affected by these recent acts. The number and the differing sizes allude to the wide spectrum of people suffering on both sides, presenting an eerie and almost chilling visual statement.
To further drive his point, in “A Drop of Red” clouds are suspended as white rain falls, in the form of yarn. “These strands of red drop from these clouds to symbolize the blood coating the Philippine streets,” he explains. Through this Mendoza aims to invite a dialogue, not simply to emphasize a problem but also to consider a possible answer. “In Blood Moon, there are 28 squares that represent the 28 days of a drug rehabilitation program. It is a solution,” Mendoza stresses. “One-month rehabilitation programs can save and turn lives around.”
Mendoza believes that proper education and developing strong support systems can possibly alleviate an otherwise bloody war. The weight of his message is carried well by his choice of ceramics, which he has long excelled at. The familiarity he holds with these materials added a layer of earnestness as he weaves in symbolism and iconography in an artful manner. “The moon is there because it is visible in the night, which is when most of these killings occur,” he says. “I believe there can be a positive outcome to this issue of EJK. Addiction is a disease that can be cured.”
Throughout everything, Mendoza cultivates an open mind. Not only with regard to issues confronting his country but also in his journey, which has exposed him to artists from all over the globe. “Through this better understanding and cultural exposure, I have come to understand many ways of thinking and living,” he says. “We must be flexible and be able to understand that the world operates not only through the way we know, but through other ways of life and cultural beliefs. The power of travel manifests itself in the acceptance of other cultures.” This acceptance has deeply expanded his visual repertoire as he continues to share with viewers his stunning encounters with both stunning sights and unforgettable souls.