On Bobi Valenzuela — 05.28.2020
Bobi Valenzuela was an important figure who brought Hiraya Gallery to prominence in the '80s and '90s. He was also an inspiring mentor to countless young artists emerging from the shadow of Philippine social realism (SR) during that period.
As young artists based in Bacolod, I together with Charlie Co, Dennis Ascalon and Nunelucio Alvarado, would regularly visit Hiraya whenever we were in Manila in the early '80s. This was when we met Bobi and his co-curator Mani Chaves whom we eventually became friends with. The two would regularly visit Bacolod to observe and support the local art scene. In 1985, our Bacolod-based artist group Pamilya Pintura had an exhibition at Hiraya, and in succeeding years this would be followed by a string of solo exhibitions by Charlie, Dennis, Nune, and myself.
Bobi suffered a stroke sometime in 1997 and was forced to retire from his hectic post at Hiraya. Upon recovery, he managed to work again as part time curator for Kulay Diwa Gallery in Sucat and Boston Gallery in Cubao. When Donna Miranda and I started Green Papaya in 2000, I invited Bobi to help us with programming and to join us as curator.
Among the two important exhibitions he curated for Papaya were the inaugural show, The Umbrella Country (which featured Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Brenda Fajardo, Charlie Co, Nunelucio Alvarado and Santiago Bose), and Santi's last solo exhibition, Traveling Bones Gather No Stones.
Sometime in early 2001, I saw an opportunity to explore and widen the scope of our exhibition programming. Gerry Tan had proposed an exhibition of his graduating class from the UP College of Fine Arts (UPCFA). The exhibition, Two for the Road, was a project that explored visual imagery and the physical experience of walking from UPCFA to Papaya in Teachers Village. The class included Patricia Eustaquio, MM Yu, Amy Aragon, Josue Mangrobang, Lea Lim and Liby Limoso, among others. To our surprise, Roberto Chabet came to hang the exhibition -- the first of many future collaborations with Papaya.
Unfortunately, I did not anticipate that Two for the Road would compel Bobi and I to take two different roads. He wanted Papaya's trajectory patterned after Hiraya. Although I did not have a fixed vision from the start of what I wanted Papaya to be, I was pretty clear I did not want it to be another Hiraya. I wanted Papaya to be open to possibilities, especially to emerging practices coming from new generations. Due to our curatorial differences, Bobi and I had to amicably go our separate ways.
Nevertheless, Papaya recognizes Bobi Valenzuela's significant contributions to its early formation. I am likewise personally grateful for his friendship and support, and I credit him for giving us Bacolod artists our first Manila outings.
May 28, 2020