Bembol Dela Cruz is a murderer; a murderer by killing preconceived notions, destroying stereotypes, and slaying the indifferent ignorance that has often been blind to the sanctity of life.
Body bags, homemade bombs and handmade guns, these do not necessarily describe images suggesting respect for life, and yet by drawing attention to that which have cruelly marked the conscience of society, by emphasizing what is perhaps considered as the most ultimate violence to the soul and by portraying the biggest act of shame in humanity, this young artist manages to stage an execution; an execution of apathy by moving your awareness into that of his own; an execution of innocence by holding a mirror to what society is capable of.
Still fresh from his residency at Liverpool Hope University in the United Kingdom, the talented artist packs for his latest undertaking: back to back residencies in New York and Massachusetts, respectively. All the while after having just opened a new series of works, his current exhibit entitled “Actus Reus,.” Unveiled at the West Gallery last June 7, will be running until June 25.
The exhibit comprises of a combination of paintings and installation works, which is a series of painted handmade guns and a pickaxe beautifully inscribed with the words, “ An act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty.” His latest collection, presents itself once again as a cathartic artistic creation. Actus Reus is a Latin legal term pertaining to a guilty act proved alongside a guilty mind, basically the unlawful killing of human beings. The words however do not manage to encompass the severity of such an act, a severity which De la Cruz stresses by the carefully placed body bags scattered from the corner of the space, black body bags to signify murder and piling number of deaths from an upsurge of crime rates that society is confronted with everyday, a lot of which had suffered at the hands of the very guns which he had brushed into being.
“Every time manoodkang local news lagi may binaril, pinatay, parangnapaka trigger happy na g tao, mostly nowadays mga younger kahitmga 12 years old…angbilis pa kumuha satin ngweapon.”It is such reflection on the darker side of humanity, and his mourning of it that often moved him to create. His sensitivity to the violence that others have both suffered and are equally capable of have often been the theme of his previous works, all of which aims to disturb, to push you out of you comfort zone in order to truly see. He does not merely hope to shock and awe, he aims to make his audience realize that at the end of the day, it is a choice, and a choice that every one of us carries.
“Siguro ito lang ang way ko para maipakita yung laging nag bo-bother sa utak ko. Actually hindi ko gusto ang baril, ayaw ko din magkaroon ng baril.” says the politely soft-spoken artist of his works. Standing out for the beautiful tattoos on his body, which were by of his own design, he draws attention not simply for his body art, but also for his fascinating mind and intriguing ideas. While he has had many achievements, garnered many accomplishments and exhibited many successful shows in his artistic career, all of his fruitful endeavors were not without a fight.
It is hard to imagine a time when this flourishing artist was not just that; however, in his younger days being a full time artist was not an idea that had readily crossed his mind especially as he did not particularly come from a family of artists, ”Minsan yun nga din nagiging question sa utak ko,kasi kahit sa family ko sa father and mother’s side walang nag-art.”. His interests in skate boarding and music, which he cultivated by playing bass in a band had also taken up most of his time, “time na yun, medyo magulo pa utak ko eh.” However, it was upon entering college that he found his calling and began a life of more careful focus. Entering the University of the Philippines in 1998, he went to the College of Fine Arts to Major in Painting, graduating in 2002.
It was also in this time that he began to add to his body art, “I have two full sleeves, and back piece full, and writing,” he says to start with, "twelve years old ako nag start magkatatooo. Ako lang mag-isa…nanganak nang nanganak, nung college, lagi may design ako, yung design sa akin, yung nag execute ka-batch ko sa UP… hanggang mapuno na lahat.” Perhaps it was this time that marked his more enthusiastic exploration of the visual arts, although entering his course with a portfolio of mostly drawn works, his class professors and peers had managed to stimulate his visual appetite as he sent out to forge his own voice, “sobrang amazed ako pag nakakakita ako ng iba’t ibang klaseng form. I mean hindi lang paintings, like installations. Like kunwari mapapadaan ako somewhere, sa Hiraya Gallery, before pa, or mapapadaan ako sa art center, nakikita ko mga installation art na medyo kakaiba sa paningin ko so medyo may konting influence. Na-attract ako kung ano ba yun. Kung bakit ganiyan, hanggang sa diretso na.”
Soon enough, his future became bright with the possibility of creation, an occupation which he found himself readily engaged in and passionate about, undaunted by the difficulties that accompany an artistic life. "Pag dating ng second year, dumating na sa point na nakikita ko na yung ibang artist. Nagbabasa na din ako ng mga art related books. Iniisip ko din kung ano din nagpu-push sa kanila. Alam ko noon na mahirap, sabi nga nung prof ko, kasi sa campus pa lang mahirap na eh, I mean materials mo saan ka kukuha ng pangbili ng materials mo, di ba? Sabi nila, hindi pa ito ang umpisa, paglabas mo pa lang ng university, doon mo pa mas mararamdaman kung ano yung pagiging artist. Pero, sabi nga nila, tiyaga lang yan. Kung gusto mo talaga.”
As it appears, Dela Cruz not only wanted it, but was also meant to have it. “Nagulat na lang ako nagdirediretso lang ako, never ako nag apply ng trabaho sa kahit saan. Pero siyempre may mga side projects at the time kasi wala talaga. Mga murals…sa mga interior. Gaya ng sa Saguijo ..apat kami na gumawa noon. Isa sa mga first challenges sa amin. Maganda noon. Nung college pa, nagbibigay nang raket mga prof namin. Like portraiture, para may extra income pang bili mo ng materyales mo, para pang araw-araw lang.“
With the upcoming residencies under his belt, he has come a long way and has fought a good fight for his art. From his influences, he has forged a style that is truly his own, a style that imbibes beauty in what could have otherwise been considered ghastly, by transforming into something meaningful, exemplified in his 2011 exhibit, “Corpus Delecti,“ in which he explored his fascination with skin art by portraying them as an identifier of salvage victims. His inclination to things overlooked and ignored, is perhaps what makes his body of works striking. While moved by horrible crimes, he focuses his attention not on media frenzies but instead on the everyday victims often disregarded. His first solo exhibit in 2006 at Mag:net Galery, entitled “The History of Things,” comprised of everyday objects with a sinister story, “typical objects lang pero behind nung mga objects na yun ginagamit bilang torture.” Another exhibit of note is, “House Blends,” exhibited at the Blanc just last year in which he draws inspiration from a book entitled, “Anarchist Cookbook,” from the late '60s which describes disturbingly simple recipes for creating bombs, copies of which circulated on the internet and were even further improved upon. It was the very same exhibit that won him the 8thAteneo Art Awards.
Constantly brimming with fresh and moving ideas, many great exhibits are surely yet to be conceived from this reflective and brilliantly intriguing mind.