Religious subjects and themes are common in works of art—and why not? Dramatic, moving, and timeless, they stir our imagination and soul.
Consider Michelangelo’s Pieta, a stunning sculpture in marble depicting Mother Mary cradling the body of Jesus Christ after the Crucifixion. Then there’s Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, a painting in tempera and oil that continues to fascinate and intrigue. Note the spilled salt next to Judas, which is considered a bad omen, or the subtle references to the number 3: apostles are grouped into three and there are three windows in the background. As for the person on Jesus’ right, that is an identity only Da Vinci would know. Some say it is the Apostle John, others Mary Magdalene. (Read: What Food Did Jesus and His Apostles Eat During the Last Supper?)
And for these four Filipino artists, faith isn’t just a prominent feature in their works; it is a major influence in their lives.
Filipino religious artist: Emmanuel Garibay
Born in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, the son of a Methodist pastor witnessed his father’s personal, hands-on approach to caring for his parishioners. As such, his works capture, as one art writer described it, “the Bible of the poor and marginalized rather than the Bible of comfortable privilege.”
“God, to me, is in situations where people are struggling to uphold or just to find meaning and dignity in their existence,” he said. “God is found in people who generally struggle and who engage God seriously in a wrestling match in order to understand why they exist.”
The Holy Family (2001) by Emmanuel Garibay
(Oil on canvas, 48 x 61 inches)
Third Day (2013) by Emmanuel Garibay
(Oil on wood)
Filipino religious artist: Ang Kiukok
The son of immigrant parents from Xiamen, China, the artist was baptized a Catholic in 1962 and was married to a devout Catholic. Like the rest of his creations, he rendered his religion-themed works in a style that has been called everything from “figurative expressionism” to “ugly.”
“I paint the way I do because I am not really happy with what is happening around me,” said the 2001 National Artist for Visual Arts. “Even if I cannot make a sale, I will still have to paint my subjects the way I do, because they are part of me.” (Read: A Look Into the Pope’s Most Favorite Painting)
Jesus Carries His Cross (1996) by Ang Kiukok
(Oil on canvas, 114 x 91 cm)
Pieta (1981) by Ang Kiukok
(Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches)
Filipino religious artist: Ramon Vibar and Michael Vibar
In Bicol, the father and son are famous for carving life-size, life-like images of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the various saints out of cement and wood. Their statues can be found in many of Albay’s churches, as well as in the homes of families who collect religious images.
Ramon, who inherited his talent from his sculptor father Castro, considers himself an instrument of God. According to him, the act of sculpting is akin to communicating with the Lord. “Every time I go on with my works, I feel the intercession of God to perfectly create his image according to his likeness,” he said. (Read: 5 Standout Shrines of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in the PH)