Jeho Bitancor: Farewell to Empire
by: Riel Jaramillo Hilario
Visual artist Jeho Bitancor turns to the medium and language of installation in this
recent exhibition, New Works. The artist is noted for his paintings which predominantly
expressed progressive leanings and a visually transcribed criticism of
imperialist/capitalist excesses and their subsequent roles as the harbingers of greed and
decadence in comtemporary Philippine society. He participated in some activist artist
groups, in the late 80's to early 90's, notably with ABAY and Sanggawa. This installation
echoes the critical themes contra imperialism explored by the artist in his previous
paintings. Though the present work's use of medium brings home more direct and poignant
points with such ferocity and immediacy - characteristics often rare in the vicarious and
theatrical domain of painting.
Bitancor's installation derives much of its elements from appropriations of Christian
imagery, more specifically from the Holy Passion: cruciform placements, the deposition
ladder, ashes and blood, wine and host. Ironically Bitancor does not make references to
the redemptive message of the Passion, but uses the imagery to describe (or prophesy) an
event, namely the death of Empire, the world of rapacious greed of the Imperio-Capitalist.
As such, the artist assumes the posture of an apocalyptic prophet hurling forth words of
anthema to an abominable beast with cracked feet of clay.
the central portion of the installation is marked with an assemblage reminiscent of the
Deposition. Scattered on the floor are cinders whose placement evokes a recent
conflagration that has scorched a golden ladder. The remains of a singed business suit
hang near the top rungs of the ladder and from here proceeds transparent hoses, like IV
lines of blood tap sources of precious life from the pages of the books, composed in the
form of a cross on a painted red wall. At the foot of the ladder are seedlings, ever
reliable symbols of hope in death fields. Bitancor's hits point-blank that the lifelines
of late imperialist capitalism are materialist philosophies and sciences wrangled from
their true contexts. Thus texts from Darwinism, laissez faire economics, Nietzschean
Ubermensch (superman), theocracy, utilitarianism among others become the apologetics to
the rapacious, apathetic and juggernaut killing and consumption of this modern monster.
Thus the work evinces ideology as the black soul of the Empire, its only source of
existence and nourishment.
In other aspects of the piece, Bitancor decries efforts to resurrect the dying monster.
Books, as symbols of nascent ideology, are piled up to support yet another ladder that
leads to the top of the social pyramid, where power, influence, money and truth are
dispensed with god-like omnipotence. (To the top, is where they want to go, climbing the
rungs of wanton consumption and patronage politics.) From a tomb-like installation on one
side of the gallery emerge the dark shrouded shapes of a man. It is a parody of imminent
rebirth, much more closer to the reanimation of a zombie, on its way up to pillage once
more the realm of the living.
Bitancor seems to have constructed a memento mori to late-stage capitalism, exposing its
imperialist viscera and to some extent its colonialist tentacles. the work recalls the
installations of a shaman whose rituals need to illustrate magically, the death of an
enemy, or the subjugation of a malevolent deity for healing to occur. For the enemy might
resuscitate, gain strength to attack and ravage the hero and oppress the people. The
artist's work then pleads us to pay attention to the workings of ideology and its presence
It is therefore out twofold task to slay the dragon and, as a precaution, cut off its
Last November 2003, Jeho was honored by Cong. Bellaflor angara-Castillo for his
achievements in the Arts. He was also commisioned to do a 4 panel painting depicting the
history of Baler. The work is now on permanent display at the Museo de Baler.
One of his paintings is also on exhibit until March 18 at the 18th Asian
International Art exhibition
(December 9, 2003 - March 18, 2004) , Hongkong Heritage Museum, Shatin, Hongkong
The exhibit features works Philippine artists: Ben Cabrera, Virgilio Aviado, Norma
Belleza, Jeho Bitancor, Eduardo Castrillo, Sid Gomez Hidlawa, Ramong Orlina, Susa
Fetalvero-Roces, Jose Tenze Ruiz, & Phyllis Zaballero.
All photographs are property of Jeho Bitancor
Click here to see
other works of Jeho Bitancor
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A one-man exhibit by
August 15-20, 2004
Museo De Baler