Since 2012 Pio Abad has been using the silk scarf as a surface for depicting alternative or repressed histories of power.
In his ongoing series, Every Tool Is A Weapon If You Hold It Right, we witness contemporary interpretations of the vanitas still life. The portrayed objects, from tools in the artist's studio to artefacts bearing specific histories of loss and degradation, are transferred onto a luxurious surface to tell a more universal narrative. These scarves serve as a reminder that ultimately every image ends up being co-opted and mistranslated by capital and the human desires that drive it. The title is taken from an Ani diFranco song; a rephrasing of Walter Benjamin’s ‘there is no document of civilization which is not, at the same time, a document of barbarism’ as a pop song lyric.
In the new works from the series, Abad introduces another historical layer as a backdrop to these compositions. In 1975, Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned the Italian actress turned photographer Gina Lollobrigida to create a coffee table book on the Philippines. Lollobrigida travelled around the country documenting artists at work, farmers toiling in the fields, provincial festivals and even a counterfeit Stone Age tribe. Her highly saturated and orientalised images of local culture portrayed a modern country embracing indigenous tradition – a representation in stark contrast to the violent reality of a country under martial rule. The repeated tableau on these scarves shows the Filipino Modernist painter Hernando R. Ocampo, known for his abstract paintings based on military camouflage, sketching a female nude in his studio.