“The paintings in this exhibit are the result of my collaboration with Guy Custodio. We refer to ourselves jointly as HOCUS—HO for Hofileña and CUS for Custodio, and we identify our collective work with the symbol of a little angel reading a book and sitting on a bench while jiggling his leg, a habit of Filipino men. He is called “anghel de cuyacuy”—it is a unique icon with which we sign our collaborative works.” That was how Saul Hofileña began his opening speech at the inauguration of the “Quadricula (HOCUS II)” exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Galleries 27 and 28.
The first “HOCUS” exhibition opened in 2017 also at the National Museum of Fine Arts. Its guest curator was Gemma Cruz Araneta who felt it was a homecoming because she was at one time the Director of the National Museum.
“HOCUS I” lasted six months, ending most appropriately on October, the museum and galleries month. There were monthly lectures about heritage conservation, urban-planning, history of Philippine architecture, and museum administration. These were held at the Osmeña Hall—80 to 100 teachers, students, art and culture advocates, and professionals attended each time. Saul raffled copies of the hardbound “HOCUS I” catalogue, sets of Cartas Philippinensis (the only tarot cards with Philippine themes), and his first history book, the best seller Under the Stacks. He also donated six paintings from “HOCUS I” to the National Museum, which are now on permanent display on the fourth floor.
The enigmatic title of the second “HOCUS” collection is “Quadricula,” which alludes to the Spanish grid used by the Kings to re-configure conquered territories and compel the natives to settle in coastal towns they created. It is deliberately spelled with a Q, the Portuguese way, to remind us that the first Europeans who ransacked our shores came from Portugal, not Spain.
According to Saul, “There are friars in abundance in the “HOCUS I and II” paintings because, to quote the late Leon Ma. Guerrero, ‘…the history of Spanish colonization in the Philippines, begins and ends with the friar.’ The friar’s omnipresence stemmed from the Patronato Real or the Royal Patronage, which was a politico-religious arrangement between the Spanish Monarch and the Pope that gave the former the right to conquer and possess overseas territories in exchange for financing the latter’s efforts at spreading the true Faith.”
The National Museum’s guest curator, Gemma Cruz Araneta, arranged the “Quadricula” paintings in sequential order, from where a historical narrative emerged. “I thought that was amazing simply because I did not have a historical timeline in mind when I was conceptualizing each painting—but, thanks to Gemma, the collection now conveys a saga, each panel, each canvas, is like a chapter of ourcolonial history,” Saul says.
The lawyer and historian ended his brief speech saying: “‘Quadricula’ tells us our stories during the colonial period that we may have never learnt or, perhaps, we have misunderstood, if not forgotten. This exhibit is about the people who subjugated us, harmed us, or may have loved us but betrayed us in the end. ‘Quadricula’ tells us why we are who we are. The paintings are our stories and we are, indeed, the stories that we tell.”
At the inauguration, the guest of honor was no less than Luli Arroyo Bernas, who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as chairperson of the National Museum Board of Directors. Also present were National Musem director Jeremy M. Barnes and assistant director Ana Maria Theresa Labrador, Far Eastern University corporate president Gianna Montinola, National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, Crown Plaza Museum’s Eddie Chua, art collectors Susana and Mandy Eduque, Tina Roco Corona and her son Francis, and Danny Dolor.
The first in the series of “Quadricula” lectures was recently given by Saul himself who explained the symbolisms, allegories, and revelations embedded in the paintings. He assured the audience that the “HOCUS I” and “HOCUS II (Quadricula)” paintings, in concept and brushstrokes, are firmly backed up by primary and secondary historical sources. He said that, as a lawyer, he strictly adheres to the rules of evidence.
“‘Quadricula,’ like its predecessor, ‘HOCUS I,’ is again the result of my collaboration with Saul Hofileña, the intellectual author of the paintings,” says Guy Custodio. “Each one was meticulously researched by Saul, and I have painted faithfully the scenes that he had in his head. Saul always tells me that each painting must have a story, and while telling me his stories he becomes animated with his words and gestures, sometimes he even mimics the sounds of the people and the creatures that I must paint. He shows pictures of what he wants me to paint and explains to me images and what emotions each image must evoke.”
The painter ended saying, “The ‘HOCUS’ paintings are Saul’s visions, the stories that he narrated to me before my brush touched the canvas. They tell us the history of our country and the final result of our collaboration amazes me no end. I have spent my whole life painting, and in my remaining years I believe the ‘HOCUS’ and ‘Quadricula’ paintings will be the achievement of my life and will be our legacy to the Filipino people.”
Guy studied restoration of religious art in Spain, where he worked for 20 years before he was commissioned to restore some heritage churches in Bohol. Recently, he was sent by the National Museum to Guian, Eastern Samar to restore the unique shell-encrusted church in the province.