In Philippine folklore, the aswang is a shape-shifting demon, that transforms into a beast at night, in search of prey. Here, Tapaya looks at a situation that – though not unprecedented in the Philippines – has resurged with urgency in recent years: namely, the spate of extra-judicial killings that have occurred under the ‘war on drugs’. The work is, for the artist, “an allegory of the present”, and the painting’s many motifs hold symbolic reference. For example, a man in uniform is depicted as waiting for the sap to come from the banana flower during the night, which according to folk belief, gives a person an invincible power. He is about to transform into a wild boar, pointing to how authority figures are seen as those gluttonous for even more power. Winged creatures hover over the scene, carrying cloves of garlic, as an antidote to the aswangs. These winged creatures are, for Tapaya, human rights advocates who try to fight the animosity in this urban jungle.
Rodel Tapaya (b. 1980, Montalban, Philippines) is a widely recognised artist in Southeast Asia today. Working in media ranging from monumental paintings to intricate sculptures and traditional craft, Tapaya creates work that synthesises folk narratives, pre-colonial historical research and contemporary reality within the framework of memory and history. Tapaya exhibits extensively across the region and won the Grand Prize of the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize in 2011. He lives and works in Bulacan, Philippines.