A testament to his boundary-pushing artistic praxis, the present lot ranks among one of Ventura’s most captivating works. Inspired by an eclectic range of images and styles—from American Photorealism to the playful graffiti that bedeck the walls of Metro Manila—Dogwars demonstrates Ventura’s masterly finesse in employing his signature layering style. The dramatic chiaroscuro on Ventura’s hyperrealistically-rendered black-and-white dogs evince his impressive command over classical artistic techniques, alluding at once to Old Master paintings and 21st century American photorealists. Yet, what makes the work so exciting is its bold blurring of high art/low art boundaries. Combining a diverse array of visual signifiers, the painting is interspersed with tongue-in-cheek nods to comic books, Disney, Roy Lichtenstein and pop art. In Ventura’s expansive imagination, cartoon speech bubbles straight from the pages of Marvel coexist alongside al-Buraq, a mythical flying horse in the Islamic tradition of Mindanao.
Describing his layering process as a metaphor for the Philippines’ hybrid national identity, Ventura acts as a negotiator—a bricoleur of sorts, in Derridean parlance—between different cultures and artistic practices. The blurred sketches of Mickey Mouse and disembodied Mickey gloves on Ventura’s Dogwars, then, acts less as a saccharine reminder of childhood, and more a statement on urban transformation, global capitalism and American cultural influence. The indigenous, however, never recedes from Ventura’s field of vision.
The persistent focus on animals, cyborgs and the non-human is a mainstay of Ventura’s oeuvre, including Zoomanities (2008) and Beastiality (2008); Dogwars is no exception. Here, Ventura once again demonstrates his familiarity with critical theory, particularly posthumanism. Alluding at once to Foucauldian notions of biopower and Donna Harraway’s cyborg theory, Dogwars plays with and subverts customary definitions of what it means to be human. Like Harraway, Ventura problematizes the logics of antagonistic dualism—black/white; self/other; human/animal—by hyperbolizing the central confrontation between the two dogs in an almost-parodic fashion. Ventura’s riotous use of color and collage renders the scene not one of dramatic tension, but comedic relief, hinting at the futility of conflict and competition. In centering the animal—the non-human—in Dogwars, Ventura defamiliarizes the familiar and invites his viewers to imagine a chimeric world of fusions organized not along the lines of contestation, but affinity, coexistence and interconnection between separate entities. For Ventura’s postcolonial pastiche, the structural binaries of East/West, or high art/low art, or human/animal cease to be meaningful. What remains, in its place, is a liminal phenomenology of hybridity and in-betweenness, where identities meet and contest, and are simultaneously asserted, negotiated and subverted.
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