“I began my journey as an OFW in the year 2006. I auditioned for Hong Kong Disneyland because I was looking for a stable job unlike the situation I was in back then. Like most dancers we lived on “rackets” and the occasional theater performances, which did not pay much,”
says Proceso Gelladuga on the subject of his latest solo exhibit, Maleta, at Galerie Stephanie. One of the estimated 2.4 million documented Filipinos working abroad, Gelladuga has for the past 10 years been living in Hong Kong in the career that sustains him and his family. Working in Disneyland for 6 years as a dancer/performer and now for 4 years a full time dance teacher, Gelladuga recalls that
“so many things have changed for me. I’ve learned to adjust to a very different culture and a very different language. When you live abroad as a Filipino worker (not an expat, sadly we are not considered expats but migrant workers) you have to accept the situation that most people will look down on you, that you need to work harder than the rest to gain respect and trust. I have gained my students respect and trust and I am grateful for that. Through hard work I was able to prove myself as much a professional as other nationalities in my line of work. Filipino dancers here have earned that respect. Unfortunately, our compatriot domestic helpers still face discrimination to this day. They are still looked down on by some. Some of them still are modern day slaves. They cannot earn residency no matter how long they’ve stayed here. Some of them accept less than the minimum wage just so they can stay here to work and be able to send money back home. I have been here long enough to see that, to know some of these people and know what they go through.”
Focusing on the ubiquitous maleta or the luggage where the overseas Filipino workers use to pack aspects of their lives in when they cast their lot in the hope of financial security, Gelladuga creates a suit of paintings that embody both the hope and the perils OFWs face.
“My new series of work is a tribute to all OFWs particularly the domestic helpers, the laborers who are seeking a better life. So many migrants come here with the hope of bringing a brighter future to their families back home. They leave their young children behind to take care of other people’s children. Why? Because what they have at home is just not enough. A hand to mouth existence or we call it isang kahig, isang tuka is tiring and hopeless. Not everyone who leaves, leave because they want to. Some are forced to make sacrifices because of poverty and the lack of better opportunities. The luggage or maleta is a symbol of hope, of a promising future but at the same time also a symbol of heavy burden, pain, loneliness & danger.”
For the exhibit, the maleta is transformed into a metaphor that is easily relatable to many. It stands in for the people who use them and of the situation they face. Maleta # 2 shows us the content of a man’s luggage. Tucked with the ordinary clothes he has packed to arm him on his new life, is a photograph of his baby, whom he leaves and will not see for years, to be able to secure the child’s future. The pain of missing out on being with the child and coming back as a stranger is a common experience among OFWs who leave their own families to be able to provide for them. Fragile also shows a child, this time in the familiar balikbayan box, asleep with a stuffed toy in hand. The recipient of a “care package” to proxy in for actual presence, a generation of Filipinos is raised without the guidance and attention of their parents. The Fall shows a man, luggage embraced, on the act of falling. To Gelladuga, who is simultaneously a painter, dancer and choreographer, gestures are meaningful as expressions of an emotional state. The uncertainty of packing one’s life in a maleta to take a chance on a better life away from home is fully expressed in the resignation of the OFW to fate. Uncertainty is daunting, and not everyone makes it, as Gelladuga relates “I know people here who remit 90% of their earnings to their families back home. Then when emergency arise they are forced to loan money they can’t pay for because their families need the money back home. It is a vicious cycle that leaves them powerless and tied up. No matter how much they want to save it’s just not possible. There are more and more domestic helper suicides reported here in HK. These people have lost everything to debt and they feel helpless. When you are the sole breadwinner and you have nothing more to give then where do you go?” The compounded issues are sometimes overwhelming, as the ironically titled Wall of Hope implies. “I am lucky to have found my calling in painting and dance. There are a lot of us here in this profession and we are lucky for being recognized for our talent. But the domestic helpers, laborers across the globe, they have a heavier burden to carry. They carry their whole families hopes and dreams with them. Lucky if they get a good employer, tough if they don’t, and much tougher if they get all tied up drowning in debt with employment agencies and loan sharks that kill, and this is not just in the figurative sense but rather, literally.”
For the many whose leisure includes going to galleries to see exhibitions like this, and going abroad to see sights and absorb foreign cultures, Maleta is a reminder of the many among us who are not so privileged. Through the body of work done by Gelladuga, symbol of upward mobility takes on a strident stance, one of society gone awry, of a nation whose people are forced to roam the earth to survive.
Curated by Ricky Francisco
Proceso Gelladuga’s 2nd solo exhibit, Maleta opens on July 28 and runs until August 11 at Galerie Stephanie, Unit 1B Parc Plaza Bldg., 183 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave., Libis, Quezon City. For more information please call: +632.7091488 or email us at email@example.com