A long horizon of blue ocean appears framed within the riggings of an equally long watercraft, its bright orange bamboo outrigger skimming the waterline. Two people onboard gaze into the distance, one cradling the image of a small St Michael the Archangel. The picture is quiet, but one can easily imagine the briny smell of sea water and the staccatto of a small motor, chugging relentlessly against the occasional laughter of waves. The pair in the boat is suggested to be part of a fluvial parade in honor of the eponymous saint in the painting’s title. Borlongan, whose visual language is influenced by photography, crops out extraneous details of this event, and zooms onto a specific subject, creating a pictorial window that sets aside other elements and renders his images as tableaux-like in their stillness.
The fluvial parade is a Filipino Catholic tradition, where a patron saint is feted with a bevy of bedecked boats sailing in unison, along the banks of a river or a shoreline. Fishing villages often initiate such celebrations, to invoke the patron’s favor to bless the sea and their livelihood. Images such as this painting’s San Miguel, are often if not always brought out into the sea, in the open water, to symbolically persuade them for a benediction. Borlongan’s work curiously removes the processional details of the event, even rendering the work as some sort of a sea crossing journey. It is even reminiscent of the boat figurines atop the Manunggul Jar, a neolithic artifact found in Palawan, now a cultural treasure housed in the National Museum in Manila. The similarity of pose of both passenger and boatman - prehistoric figures representing the passage of the moribund to the afterlife - is uncanny. Yet, besides the resemblance, Borlongan’s painting has an affirmative, yes-to-the-sea, spirit that transcends its original narrative and reference. It is simply, a guided journey on water and sky, blessed and resplendent, in the great peace of the ocean.
Oil on Canvas
122 x 244 cm (48 x 96'')