Pacita's Exorcism of the Philippine Dictator - "Marcos and His Cronies"
This painting by Pacita Abad was inspired by a wooden Sanni mask she saw in Sri Lanka when traveling on the back roads down the mountains from Kandy to Galle in 1984. The hauntingly striking, colorful wooden mask was hanging outside the small wooden house of a traditional medicine man in a rural area of the country.
Pacita yelled for her husband to stop the car and back up so that she could take a closer look at the unusual mask. Unexpectedly, an old man appeared from behind the bushes to see if they were lost or needed help. When Pacita asked him about the mask he just smiled and told her it was a Sinhalese Sanni exorcism mask, and that each of the 18 individual sanni masks represented disease spreading demons carrying deadly maladies, such as cholera, smallpox, typhoid, jaundice, malaria, hookworms, Over the following months disease etc.
When Pacita then asked about the large mask at the top, holding people in its mouth and protected by cobras, the old man told her in a low voice that it was Maha Kola, the all powerful one. Pacita was mesmerized by this incredible exorcism mask and half in jest, said that Maha Kola reminded her of the Philippine Dictator, Ferdinand Marcos holding Filipino children in his deadly grasp.
After she both sketched and photographed the Sanni exorcism mask, Pacita thanked the medicine man and continued to head down to the sea and eventually to her hotel in Colombo. However, she could not get the mask out of her mind and the more she thought about it, she began to believe that this might be a good way to exorcise the Marcos dictatorship from the Philippines. Why not try?
That night as soon as she reached the decaying yet elegant, Galle Face Hotel in Colombo she started laying out a huge trapunto painting on the floor. Over the weeks as the painting continued to grow, she ran out of both canvas and floor space. Fortunately, the hotel owner graciously upgraded her to his largest Presidential Suite so that she could continue working on her painting. Unfortunately, the roof in the room was leaking, but Pacita simply worked around the numerous buckets and passionately continued painting.
On her return plane trip to the Philippines she was way overweight because of the size of her painting, but she just couldn't wait to land and continue paintinging. When she was back in her studio in Manila, she called the painting "The Medicine Man" as she was still living under the corrupt Marcos regime, but secretly Pacita named the painting "Marcos and his cronies" after the Kleptocracy of the Dictator, Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, and their many greedy cabinet members, military generals and sycophant businessmen, who were raping the country, imprisoning opponents and sending billions of borrowed/stolen dollars to their personal, secret offshore bank accounts.
Over the following months Pacita feverishly worked on this painting and most prominently showing at the top of the painting the voracious Maha Kola demon, i.e. Ferdinand Marcos, eating Filipino children. Pacita then purposely placed the Dictator standing on the head of a bejeweled Imelda Marcos, playing on the Dantesque theme that Imelda was situated in the in the lowest level of Hell. This was inspired by a joke Pacita heard going around in Manila, that someone was very surprised to see Marcos in the upper level of Hell, and when they asked him how that could be, he smiled and said, "I am standing on Imelda's head."
Pacita continued to embellish her trapunto painting with shells, stuffed, painted cloth snakes from Thailand, glass beads, mirrors from India and other found objects. Pacita then covered the painting with hundreds of painted dots and buttons to represent the millions of Filipinos who were oppressed by the Philippine Dictator, stuffed dolls representing the Philippine children held in the Dictator's claws and mouth, and of course rhinestone jewelry to adorn the mask of Imelda Marcos. Pacita's painting kept expanding and ultimately grew to become 197 x 115 inches (16.4 x 9.6 feet ), which was one of the largest paintings that Pacita ever created.
Below Marcos, Pacita named each of the 18 diseased demon masks after Dictator's greedy and corrupt cronies, with the top 2 demons being the large masked henchmen, Attorney General Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fabian Ver. Below them were the 16 thieving Sanni demon masks representing military stooges and corrupt business sycophants who Pacita named including: Cojuanco, Floirendo, Disini, Colonel Abedilla, General Ramos, Tan, Cruz, Benedicto, Cuenca, Silverio, and Romualdez among others. Years later, when then Philippine President, Fidel Ramos, opened Pacita's exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum featuring this towering painting, he leaned over and whispered to Pacita, "Don't tell me which mask is me."
Pacita officially changed the name of her painting to "Marcos and his cronies" once she left the Philippines in January 1986, shortly before Marcos was overthrown by the People Power Revolution. On that day when Marcos got on the plane to Hawaii, Pacita celebrated his departure with champagne and she felt that her exorcism of Marcos, Imelda and their cronies was finally successful. Unfortunately, however, history would prove that her exorcism was incomplete.
'Marcos and his cronies' is now in the permanent collection of Singapore Art Museum.