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An Extraordinary Show Celebrates 25 Years of the Artist Who Loved the Ordinary Man


One hundred fifty select paintings and 50 drawings on paper comprise the landmark show opening tonight at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila billed An Extraordinary Eye for The Ordinary. The event is a celebration of Elmer Borlongan's 25-year career as an artist, beginning with his first one-man show at the Boston Gallery in 1993.

Borlongan is known for his socio-realist paintings, often set in urban locales, with the common man at its center—jeepney drivers, street vendors, devotees of the Black Nazarene. While his early works he says possessed a dark theme, influenced by his life as a student activist, his canvases brightened when he and wife Plet Bolipata, also a painter, decided to move from his hometown Mandaluyong to the bucolic environs of Zambales. Still, Borlongan never took his eye away from the struggles and preoccupations of the ordinary Filipino.

The retrospective, curated by the historian Ambeth Ocampo, is a veritable history lesson in Borlongan's evolution as an artist. The learnings from his teacher Fernando Sena, who introduced Emong, beginning at age 11, to the Dutch painters Rembrandt and Frans Hals, remain present in the works. His figurative expressionist pieces, influenced by the elder painters Onib Olmedo, Danny Dalena and Jaime De Guzman, form a significant part of the exhibition.

To add another dimension to the show, the Borlongan couple decided to turn a part of the museum into a version of Emong's studio in Zambales, complete with his personal effects and his own paintings--including an early portrait of Plet and a portrait of them on a double decker bed while traveling abroad. A mural of their outdoor grounds in Zambales was also created just for the show.


An Extraordinary Eye for The Ordinary will run until March this year.