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Everything is Sacred #1, 2009, by Norberto Roldan (Filipino, b. 1953)

Everything is Sacred #1, 2009, by Norberto Roldan (Filipino, b. 1953). Wood, glass, plastic, metal, and cotton. Acquisition made possible by the San Francisco-Manila Sister City Committee (2014-15), Therese Francia Martin, Catherine Cheung and museum funds, 2015.33.a-.b. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Everything is Sacred #1, 2009, by Norberto Roldan (Filipino, b. 1953). Wood, glass, plastic, metal, and cotton. Acquisition made possible by the San Francisco-Manila Sister City Committee (2014-15), Therese Francia Martin, Catherine Cheung and museum funds, 2015.33.a-.b. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Sacred and banal, art and altar, Norberto Roldan’s work reflects the tensions and contradictions of faith in the Philippines. Although he has worked in many media, Roldan is best known for his constructions and assemblages, which often feature found objects. These forms are carefully arranged, encased within frames that resemble printers’ type trays. Everything is Sacred is made from plastic Christian figurines, amulet and apothecary bottles, crushed soda-bottle caps, fabric, and red cloth amulets that were traditionally pinned to infants to protect them from harm.

 

This grouping of objects reflects themes commonly found in Roldan’s work: an interest in folk  religion and in the intersections of faith, healing, and protection. This work speaks to the Philippines’ long history of Catholicism as well as its even longer history of faith in amulets and herbal remedies.

 

From a distance, Everything is Sacred appears like a depiction of four crucifixes. Upon closer inspection, these forms are made  from massproduced, glow-in-the-dark statuettes of the Virgin Mary in conjunction with glass bottles of herbal medicines. Many Filipinos believe in the protective powers of folk remedies and amulets, like the small red pillows stuffed with bark and herbs. This juxtaposition of Christian icon and precolonial talisman does not strike the viewer as contradictory, though; instead it presents a layered narrative about belief and healing, faith and history.

 

The collection, arrangement, and framing of these objects transform them; kitsch is made moving, and random objects speak across time. Roldan has written of his use of the grid, which echoes “the niches found in our colonial churches, sites of repetitive and endless litanies and novenas one recites in times of adversities.”

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