Rising young artist Lee Paje selects the complications of gender and sexuality for her first solo in the Upstairs Gallery of Manila Contemporary. The title of the exhibition is a word play on the Tagalog for mustache ‘bigote’ and the English ‘bigoted’ which describes an intolerant or narrow minded individual. This provides a playful entry point into issues of discrimination faced by the LGBT community through a surreal installation made up of idealized male and female forms being attacked by mustachioed gold scissors.
Identity, through sexuality and gender readings, are a continuing line of inquiry for the artist who often integrates Filipino folklore and religious texts into her works to destabilize fixed assumptions on who we should and shouldn’t be. In BIGOTEd she has been inspired by the creation myths of the first man and woman from Philippine folklore ‘Malakas at Maganda’ whose very names ‘Strong’ and ‘Beautiful’ fuel the powerful, and limiting labels placed upon men and women in society today. She attempts to destabilize these stereotypes by juxtaposing opposing symbols of masculinity and femininity on meticulously hand sculpted male and female torsos that are mounted across the walls in the gallery. Paje’s muscular male bodies are adorned with flowers and tree bark covers the skin of her curved and slender female figures. These frictions, of the feminine within the masculine and the masculine within the feminine, then segue into a wider commentary on issues of LGBT rights which is the heart of the exhibition.
Gender and sexuality are fluid concepts determined by a constantly changing set of experiences, choices and ideologies. However, structures of power tend to hold on to rigid definitions, set within heterosexual and procreative terms for control and dominance. As a result, the LGBT community is particularly vulnerable to discrimination and even violence, due to their sexual preferences. Paje’s men and women therefore function as assaulted LGBT identities, swarmed by bigoted scissors, whose mustached forms symbolize a critical and oppressive patriarchy intent on ‘cutting out’ individuals who exist outside perceived ‘ social norms’. Visually arresting, this is a judgment in process, of masculine and feminine bodies in flux, suffering at the hands of those who chose not to understand or accept their identities.