In his exhibition, entitled “Baktas” (To walk (one’s path)), Jonathan Madeja retraces his steps which leads back to his roots as a fisherman’s son in Alad island, Romblon. Madeja draws the viewer into glimpses of his past as well his unfolding articulation of the reality he’s manifesting. His works reveal a quiet but resolute inner world and his mysterious persona whose ruminations tread the nostalgic, the magical and the cynical with an equally cool eye. This exhibition marks a major milestone for Madeja. Not only is he able to mount a solo show featuring medium to large scale works but doing so using oil, a medium that he only learned to use at the start of the apprenticeship program.
All of the works for this show are monochromatic and feature various hues of blue. This was clearly done to capture the many blues of the sea in its expanse, depth, and breadth. Despite this show being his first experience with oil paint, Madeja’s strokes are decisive, smooth, and clean. From his meticulous rendering of the folds in cloth, to the greyed skin tones to the airy mist and clouds, this show is a display of great promise and technical skill developed in the course of three months. The works for this show draw from a deep sympathy for the plight of Filipino fishermen. This is a central theme in the title piece Baktas (48 x 36 in.), a possible reference to Christ walking on water. This impossible task can point back to the countless odds and dangers fishermen face everyday. Out in the open sea, one’s faith is put to the ultimate test. With tons of plastic waste making their way in our oceans, the fisherman carries garbage in one hand. Below, a plastic fish swims lifeless, displaying the irony of plastic in the sea being more abundant than the fish that live in it.
Madeja dives deeper into the issues of fishermen with Antipara (36 x 36 in.). A swimmer wearing goggles stares directly at the viewer. At the foreground of the work, a waving cat appears to ‘photobomb’ the swimmer. The waving cat has been a popular symbol among the Chinese for bringing wealth and good fortune in businesses. It’s important to note that its position in the foreground gives off the impression that its presence is unwelcome. In Baskog (36 x 24 in.), a rower is looking up at the sky, eyes empty, and nearly submerged. In the lower right corner there is a deflated basketball. Towards the upper left portion of the image, Winnie the Pooh stands behind the rower, a cheeky reference to current Chinese president, Xi Jinping. Although it’s not in the foreground, its impression is similar to the waving cat: it is both unwelcome and a disruptive presence. Antipara and Baskog set the tone for Lawod, a 4 x 6 ft. painting containing a fisherman pointing East as the central figure. In the background, a menacing Chinese dragon appears to jut into view from a sea of fishhooks, ready to strike. This is a pointed reference to the hotly disputed issue in the West Philippine Sea. What was once an abundant area for fishing and diverse marine life, The West Philippine Sea has been subject to great damage brought by artificial islands built by the Chinese government and huge Chinese vessels overfishing in the area. As a result, many local fishermen are left empty-handed after being at sea for days, often with little to eat.
With the works mostly coming from Madeja’s personal reflections, Malikmata (48 x 36 in.) takes these into a wider context. In this work, Jose Rizal appears to be nearly submerged while holding a fish. in the background, the Malacanang Palace appears to mirror Rizal: submerged, sinking, and nearly forgotten. Overhead, eyes look around, unfocused and aimless. What this work represents is a challenge to us all: in this age of information, how do we unite ourselves towards a common goal? As we look deeper into this work, it raises an important point: the sea gives life to all, not just to the fishermen whose livelihood relies on it. As fellow men, it is our duty to stand with our fishermen and to protect and nurture our own seas, out of love for our own country.