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Kaff-eine’s ‘Phoenix’ Exhibition Review

‘Its not enough to interpret the world, one must change it’

This quote is one that comes from another century that demanded that people revolt against a system in which one class of people was trampled by another more advantaged class. In a post Marxist global world one becomes aware when looking at the art here tonight of the extent to which people remain trampled and live lives in impoverished wastelands

This exhibition appropriately titled Phoenix does indeed take on the soaring beauty of the bird that rises from his own ashes. Street artist Kaff-eine has given flight to this art in her collaboration with 100 residents of major Filipino slum communities and local Filipino photographers. These artworks should not only move us, they should cause a rupture of a kind that will make us act and it is in looking at this art that will first make us truly see why action is necessary. The stories pictured here emerge from what Kaffeine refers to us a wasteland. Kaffeine’s artwork is made from the charcoal that the community make that serves to just keep them alive albeit in horrific conditions. The work was produced in the two most impoverished dump-site communities known as Baseco Compound and Happyland. The works in this exhibition commenced on-site and the solo-pieces by Kaff-eine were completed in her studio; other fine art photography of the community by Geloy and Geric further represent these environments showing that in the midst of severe poverty, violence and death a strength prevails in these people forced by history and fate to endure what would be impossible for us to contemplate experiencing.

I consider that the mini-documentary that accompanies this exhibition that documents the art-making process succeeds in taking us to a place so alien to us and in this instance perhaps making us aware of what art can do. For me it transforms perception; it invites me to enter into another space and work towards returning something to this community. The model for bringing about action is embodied in the artist Kaff-eine who when making art always wants it to be beyond interpretration; she shows how art can change the world. Her artwork in this exhibition is a combination of realist water colour and charcoal portraits. Her selection of people are presented as exhibiting that full gamut of human expression – from the wild smiles, the penetrating stare of a saddened soul, a look of furtive hope; forlorn acceptance, impossible optimism, plaintive questioning and despair- These portraits have a voice of a kind –one that demands attention to the realities of unheard people living out their lives. Kaff-eine has given form and content to these unheard songs of lament and impossible wishes for change and this exhibition in itself will create monies to improve the lives of these people. The inclusion of drawings and words by the people presented gives each of the portraits a connecting force – with the children themselves as they invoke their own narrative onto Kaff-eine’s. The artist has given us a thread to take hold of – to become a part of another world and in being so connected to respond to the voices that haunt her work.

In viewing the exhibition you will not be looking for meaning within a complex symbolic network of aesthetic poses, you will be looking at a reality that you almost want to turn away from but the force of the works is such that you will be drawn inevitably into a world that seeks change.

-Alex McCulloch