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Phalluses and Vaginal Forms in Art: A Product of Sexual Repression or Sublimation?
(The Freudian Side of Danny Castillones Sillada’s Art)
Source: Danny Castillones Sillada
When Sillada was applying for a one-man show in a gallery in Metro Manila, the gallery owner, with haughty voice, bluntly jeered at his works on phalluses and vaginal forms by saying, “Who would buy your penises and vaginas if I were to hang them in my gallery!”
Distraught, Sillada, then a struggling artist and could hardly pay a taxicab back home, almost destroyed a bulk of unframed paintings along the way. He felt so little, as if the world was caving in on him that day, and the only way to vent his anger and frustration was to burn all his works as soon as he gets home. But something was holding him back.
In 2003, it was rainy evening, when Sillada’s first one-man show in Metro Manila was formally opened at the prestigious Ayala Museum. Surprisingly, the same suite of ‘phalluses and vaginal forms’ that were derided and turned down by a gallery owner vibrantly pullulated the walls of Ayala Museum gallery in Makati City, Philippines.
Some of those who attended at Sillada’s historic exhibit were renowned Filipino filmmaker Elwood Perez, the late Offie Garcia and her husband Paulito of Ricco-Renzo Gallery (the couple gave Sillada a break by exhibiting his works that were sold out in 2004), UP Professor Reuben Ramas Cañete, PhD, then teenager Shamcey Supsup, who would become a 2011 Filipina beauty queen for Miss Universe-Philippines, and her mother Engineer Marcelina Supsup.
After his Ayala Museum exhibit, it was followed by five one-man shows between 2003 and 2005.
However, despite his provocative exhibit at Ayala Museum and his commercially successful shows in other galleries, critics did not notice
Sillada’s works. Until 2005, when a controversial “Menstrual Period in Political History” created uproar at The Podium that the media, the academe, and the mainstream critics began to notice the presence of Sillada in the Philippine art scene.
“Blue, Red and Yellow,” said The Manila times, “the colors of the Philippine flag—fill his canvasses. He [Sillada] alludes a woman’s menstrual period to the country’s cyclic political turmoil, and he sprinkles it with satirical images to boot.”
In The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Constantino Tejero cynically summons the readers in his 2005 review of Sillada’s works, “We invite gallery-goers to go see and drown themselves in this embarrassment of images. For starters, try viewing with composure that blazing image of vagina in red, yellow, black and blue, and ruminate its title: “Menstrual period in Political History.”
“This controversial mixed media piece (an attempt was made to destroy it at the height of the “Hello Garci” political scandal) reflects the artist’s critical stance toward the power struggles that “are putting our country into pit,” said The Village Voice.
In a 2006 research paper submitted to the University of Asia and the Pacific, Michael Marlowe Uy and Katrina Kalaw decoded Sillada’s vaginal symbol from a Psychoanalytical Approach:
“His controversial painting titled Menstrual Period in Political History is satirically addressed to the cyclical political turmoil in the country, allusive to female’s menstrual period. Sillada carved a form that resembles a vagina on the surface of metamorphic rock—an open and uninhibited revelation of the artist’s repressed sexual desires. The sexual repression can be understood based on the artist’s background, who stayed in the seminary for a certain period, then came out later in his art, as a protest against the political situation in the country.”
What started as a reclusive art—a reverberation of a cloistered life in the seminary and the Church—has now been blown up and exposed in public controversy, divulging the artist’s repressed sexual desires,—or are they?
Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and founding father of psychoanalysis theorizes that the major psychological problem of man is sexual repression. And sexual repression, as defined by Wikipedia, is a state in which a person is hindered to express his or her sexuality, often accompanied by the feeling of guilt or shame associated with sexual impulses. It can be subjective, depending on individual culture and moral system. Religious people, for instance, are known to have high practice of sexual repressions.
“I must admit that my works may have a derivation from sexual repression during my seminary life, but I strongly disagree that this unresolved sexual deprivation constitutes the “telos” or the formal and final cause of my art,” Sillada said. “I’d rather describe my ‘phalluses and vaginal forms’ as a product of rechanneled primal desire into a higher metaphysical form of creative desire, which is art: either as a pure aesthetic indulgence of symbol and color or as a cultural and socio-political criticism of our society.”
Whether Sillada’s art is a product of sexual repression or sublimation, it is up to the viewers to interpret based on their personal encounter and experience of his art.
The following works are representative of his ‘phalluses and vaginal forms,’ which are neither intrusive nor offensive to the sensitivities of the viewers, but whimsically amusing and intellectually engaging. In fact, Sillada prudently created this suite of oeuvre with such calculative ingenuity, albeit in an iconic manner. His works celebrate the vibrancy and sensuality of forms and colors, e.g., the tenderly entwined ribbon-like objects and overlapping planes, dashed with dynamic and coherent movement of surreal elements on the surface of his canvas or paper.
What is intriguing, though, is that the artist bares his psychological self through his creation like a specimen in a science lab to be dissected and studied. As the Filipino art critic Contantino Tejero puts it, “Once again the artist is stripping his soul naked through and through— resulting in imagery that’s crammed with symbols strong on sexuality, canvases choked with biomorphic forms and dreamlike images.”
(1) The Temptation, 2004, (2) The Broken Vow, 2004, (3) Holy Union, 2004, oil on canvas by Danny C. Sillada
Sillada’s works are dominated by images of interiors and imprisonment, escape and enclosures, exits and entrances. There are unambiguous references to a life riven by spirituality and sexuality. His images and symbols are graphic and unflinching.
~ Cid Reyes, I Know Why the Caged Birds Cry, Today (Manila) 11 May 2004
(1) Subliminal I, 2001, (2) Searching, 2001, (3) Mutiny, 2001, oil on paper by Danny C. Sillada
“Freudian theory is applicable to the artworks of Sillada. Several phallic symbols show up in his artworks. In fact, a great quantity of his paintings has the recurring phallic symbols. Examples of such paintings are Subliminal II, Subliminal Desire II, Searching, Mutiny, and Sleeping—all contain the male sex organ. Despite being colored differently, it is still evident in varied shapes. In addition, not only does he create phalluses in his paintings, there are also allusions to the female sex organ.”
~ Michael Marlowe Uy and Katrina Kalaw, a 2006 Research Paper submitted to the University of Asia and the Pacific
Sex Scandal, Sensationalism & Paranoia, 2009, 50” x 40”, gold leaf & oil on canvas by Danny C. Sillada
Controversial subjects never faze Danny Castillones Sillada, who this time casts an unflinching look at current political and social situation. His recent works are blunt references to political hypocrisy, sex scandals and media sensationalism.
~ Cid Reyes, from a 2009 Ricco-Renzo Gallery press release (Manila)
(1) The Portal of Human Existence, 2004, (2) Tower of Eden, 2004, (3) Desnuda, 2004, oil on canvas by Danny C. Sillada
Instead of merely directing the viewer’s gaze to his imagery, however, Sillada invites the audience to also “go deeper and decipher the images in relation to their personal experiences.” That should create psychological tension in the viewer.
~ Constantino Tejero, Visual Trope Strips Bare the Soul, The Philippine Daily Inquirer (Manila) 4 July 2005
(1) Efficient Cause, 2002, (2) The Portal, 2002, (3) Adam & Eve (The Awakening), 2002, pen & ink on paper by Danny C. Sillada
Sillada may have turned his back on the vow of chastity, which he admits is one of the challenges that prompted his exit, but—not to be judged as someone who has completely forsaken any attachments to his former vocation—crosses remain a predominant theme in his works. “My art is my past, present and future,” he says.
~ Jacqueline Ong, Danny Sillada: a Passion to Create, What’s On & Expat (Manila) 14-20 May 2006
Breast of Life, 2008, 50” x 40”, oil on canvas by Danny C. Sillada
(1) Subliminal II, 2001, (2) Subliminal Desire, 2001, (3) Deconstruction of Wet Dreams, 2001, oil on paper by Danny C. Sillada
Symbolism is the heart of my aesthetics; it magnifies my thoughts and feelings, and the messages that I wanted to convey to the viewers. The “Menstrual Period in Political History,” for instance, may just be a mere symbol of vaginal form; however, it possesses the power to provoke the consciousness of the viewers in the context of social and political realities of our society. As an artist, I never expected that such symbolic element would stir mass media attention almost a decade ago… Symbolism, therefore, in the context of aesthetics, has the power on its own to affect, influence, or transform the human perception; it will either irritate or inspire the viewers.
~ Danny Castillones Sillada, Symbolism, Culture, and Politics (A conversation with multidisciplinary artist and writer Danny Castillones Sillada) by Angelita Porteo, Manila Bulletin 14 February 2011
Sleeping, 2001, 17” x 11”, oil on paper by Danny C. Sillada
Here’s a video of his works “Of Passion and Sensuality” on YouTube.