Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Juan Luna's Spoliarium might have been informed by Western aesthetics but he was able to customize this in the Philippine context as a means of grappling against the colonizing stance of the Spaniards.
In his painting, Luna portrayed a tragic Roman scene wherein corpses of gladiators where being hauled from a chamber underneath an arena toward a dark area where more dead bodies were possibly piled. Aside from the subject, the strokes of Luna showed the influence of Renaissance masters to whom he was exposed when he was an expatriate student. The non-Filipino depiction is a testament that some European artistic aesthetics influenced Luna.
However, the European colonization of Luna's aesthetic sense ended there since he was able to appropriate this in the socio-historical location of the Spanish colonial Philippines. The painting's subject--the brutality toward the dead gladiators--is comparable to that toward the native Filipinos by the colonizing Spaniards. As the gladiators were stripped of their last earthly possessions, the Spaniards also stripped Filipinos of their humanity and racial dignity with their maltreatment. The slaves in the painting were not unlike the lower-class natives who were conscious of this wickedness of the Roman opportunists and Spaniards, respectively.
Luna's award-winning work was able to capture a foreign concept and turned it into a Filipino property by manifesting that beyond the colonial inhumanity, the Filipinos were able to withstand the stripping of native belongings because they still carried their honor and glory as a people. The cruelty that came with the colonization, so vividly symbolized in the painting, showed that the Philippines was not a completely lost paradise for the natives still stood proud despite their conquered selves.
By Luna's appropriating of Western aesthetics into a postcolonial tool, he expressed the native consciousness that the Filipinos could survive what grave misdeeds had been accorded them and, being metaphorical gladiators, they are not inferior warriors.