Word on the Street, the new exhibit at Art Cube Gallery in Makati exhibiting until June 1, finds artist Julius Redillas putting his stylistic defamiliarization techniques towards depicting the everyday lives of Filipinos. 

Defamiliarization as a technique—mainly literary, but found in art as well—finds an artist taking something familiar and presenting it to an audience in a strange way. The intent is to make the audience think and see this familiar object from a new perspective. 

But how do we designate what’s worthy of being artistically-depicted and what’s not? That question plagues many an artist or critic when analyzing a work or conceptualizing a creation. Specifically, is any subject too ordinary to depict on screen? 

Four paintings by Julius Redillas for "Word on the Street." Photo by Elle Yap.
Four paintings by Julius Redillas for “Word on the Street.” Photo by Elle Yap.

You can see that in works by surrealist René Magritte, or Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp. Those artists take ordinary ideas and objects and bend them into new things, pushing the subjects of art forward. 

As an artist, Redillas appears to thrive in capturing his subjects without pushing for fidelity towards reality. His stylistic choices mimic and distort reality, finding new ways of depicting essentially normal people. Word on the Street works within the same vein of defamiliarized aesthetics. 

Sinews and Curves Unfamiliar

One can call the exhibit’s stylistic choice as exposed muscles and nerves within the body. In every painting, Julius Redillas portrays humanity without skin, showing faces and arms overwhelmed with curving sinew-like shapes that appear to hang off the human figures like hair. 

As an image, it disturbs. At first glance, it is especially upsetting that the only aesthetic choice used to indicate their humanity is giving them blue eyes.

Two paintings by Julius Redillas for "Word on the Street." Photo by Elle Yap.
Two paintings by Julius Redillas for “Word on the Street.” Photo by Elle Yap.
A human-like figure with a Virgin Mary statue. Photo by Elle Yap.
A human-like figure with a Virgin Mary statue. Photo by Elle Yap.
A close-up on the child and their blue dog. Photo by Elle Yap.
A close-up on the child and their blue dog. Photo by Elle Yap.
Close-up on one of the dogs. Photo by Elle Yap.
Close-up on one of the dogs. Photo by Elle Yap.

This also applies to the other subjects of Word on the Street. Dogs and cats are depicted in the same sinewy way, with shades of blue applied to parts of their bodies. In one instance, they are entirely blue. 

Most provokingly, Redillas uses that style to depict statues of the Santo Niño and the Virgin Mary. It provokes because it gets into the reality of a typical Catholic Filipino household that these statues are as much a member of the family as the actual family itself. 

The artist himself appears to intend that provocation when one sees it. The exhibit write-up leaves us with this question to linger on: “Are our possessions merely material belongings, or do they also carry with them the weight of our memories, emotions, and experiences?”

Collectively, the artist appears to have chosen the subjects to highlight what constitutes a typical Filipino family. It’s never just the children and the parents, like the typical nuclear family; it expands to friends, neighbors, pets, and even the religious figures enshrined within the home. If Redillas sought to depict the complexity of the Filipino family, he succeeded. 

The Closeness of Connection

More than just depiction, however, the exhibit shows all of its subjects close together, often holding each other. One person carries the Virgin Mary even as it towers over them. Three paintings have people hugging their pets close to them. Even the posing pack of dogs exhibit a sense of closeness between them. 

A painting of seven dogs posing. Photo by Elle Yap.
A painting of seven dogs posing. Photo by Elle Yap.
A child holding a blue dog. Photo by Elle Yap.
A child holding a blue dog. Photo by Elle Yap.
Two paintings by Julius Redillas for "Word on the Street." Photo by Elle Yap.
Two paintings by Julius Redillas for “Word on the Street.” Photo by Elle Yap.
The exhibit "Word on the Street" featuring works by Julius Redillas. Photo by Elle Yap.
The exhibit “Word on the Street” featuring works by Julius Redillas. Photo by Elle Yap.

In their exhibit write-up, LK Rigor said that the artist sought to find significance in the ordinary—and that they found it within the important connections we form together. 

“Whether it’s the reverent cradling of cherished religious icons or the affectionate hold of beloved pets, Redillas, captures the essence of each touch — with touch as an extension of the personality holding it,” they wrote. 


Word on the Street, then, shows us what family means to us. It’s not whether we’re biologically related or not—rather, family is who and what we care about. Whether it’s our pets or children or even the statue of Mary in one corner of the room, family comprises those we actually care for.

Related reading: Totems of Thought Exhibit at The Blanc Gallery

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