5 artworks that celebrate Philippine Independence Day: reflecting on a revolution that ended colonial rule

These works celebrate the Katipunan movement, which was started by revolutionaries to fight Spanish rule

K257R8 Manila, Philippines - Dec 21, 2015. Katipunan (KKK) Monument in Manila, Philippines. The Katipunan was a Philippine revolutionary society in Manila. Alamy
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This Friday, June 12, marks 122 years of Philippine independence from the Spanish Empire.

In 1898, the Philippine Revolution helped end more than 300 years of colonial rule which saw the introduction of Christianity and the seizure of lands in order to establish plantations for tobacco, abaca, sugar cane and coffee, which were then exported abroad.

The colonists also expanded their trade networks through the Manila Galleons, which carried exchanges of porcelain, silk, ivory spices and goods with New World silver, with items shipped from China to Mexico via the Philippines.

Though the Spanish colonisers faced many clashes with local populations over the years, it was a secret society of revolutionaries and intellectuals that eventually took them down.

Formed in 1892, the Kataastaasang, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, also known as the Katipunan or KKK, aimed to gain independence through rebellion.

The revolution overlapped with the Spanish-American War, which tipped the scales against the Spanish forces and led to their withdrawal from the Philippines. On June 12, 1898, Filipino revolutionary and general Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the sovereignty of the Philippines.

It was a short-lived independence, as the US soon annexed the country, turning it into a US colony for almost the next five decades.

The Philippines eventually became an independent country in 1946.

Nevertheless, Philippine Independence Day in June remembers a crucial movement in history and was also celebrated through art, some created during the colonial period.

Here are a few notable works that tell the story of the Philippine Revolution and the country’s road to independence.

'Spoliarium' by Juan Luna

The title of Juan Luna’s most well-known work refers to the basement of the Roman Colosseum, where the weapons and garments of dead or dying slave gladiators were removed. In the painting, Roman soldiers drag a wounded men across the floor as a group of men gather on the side.

Luna was also a political activist for the Philippine Revolution. The image serves as an allegory for the conditions of Filipinos under Spanish rule. On the far right of the painting is a weeping woman often interpreted as representing the “Mother Country” as she witnesses the plundering of her people.

Juan Luna's 'Spoliarium' depicts slave gladiators being stripped of garments and armour by Roman soldiers. VIa @tetbautista / Twitter

Standing at four metres high, the large-scale work greets visitors when they enter the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila. In 1884, the painting won a gold medal at the Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Exhibition of Fine Arts) in Madrid. It was not only considered a victory for the painter, Luna, but a demonstration of how Indios the colonial term of indigenous Filipinos – could excel, too.

'Filipino Struggles Through History' by Botong Francisco

Declared a National Cultural Treasure, Botong Francisco’s work was commissioned in 1964 by the city government of Manila. It comprises a series of paintings depicting crucial events in Philippine history, from the arrival of Spaniards in the Philippines, the formation of the Katipunan, battles in the Philippine Revolution and eventual freedom from American rule.

Botong Francisco's 'Filipino Struggles Through History', featuring 10 painted panels displayed at the National Museum of the Philippines, as seen in Fung Yu's virtual tour of the installation. Fung Yu

Housed inside the National Museum of the Philippines’ Old Senate Session Hall, Francisco’s masterpiece is made of 10 panels installed along the walls of the majestic room. Collectively, it measures 80 metres long.

The work can also be seen through a virtual tour created by photographer Fung Yu.

Bonifacio and Katipunan Revolution Monument

K257R8 Manila, Philippines - Dec 21, 2015. Katipunan (KKK) Monument in Manila, Philippines. The Katipunan was a Philippine revolutionary society in Manila. Alamy

Manila’s Heroes Park includes the Bonifacio shrine, which was designed by sculptor Eduardo Castrillo in 1998 and pays tribute to Andres Bonifacio, one of the founders of the Katipunan. Dubbed “the father of the Revolution”, he was fervent in his tactics towards defeating the Spanish, highlighting the need for revolution rather than reform. The monument embodies Bonifacio’s militancy as the hero towers over a crowd of men while brandishing a weapon.

'The Making of the Philippine Flag' by Fernando Amorsolo

Known for his idyllic depictions of rural landscapes and his use of light, Fernando Amorsolo is a prominent figure in Philippine art history. His pointillist work The Making of the Philippine Flag imagines Marcela Marino Agoncillo and two other women stitching the first Philippine flag.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock (4421840a)
Fernando C. Amorsolo, Tinikling, 1960, Oil on canvas.

This is how Agoncillo earned her moniker as the “the mother of the Philippine flag”. She, along with her daughter Lorenza and friend Delfina Herbosa Natividad, created the flag after being asked by Emilio Aguinaldo to design a banner for the new republic. The result was a blue-and-red coloured flag with three stars to symbolise the country’s major islands and a sun with eight rays, each representing the provinces that colonisers placed under martial law during the conflict.

Like much of his other work, Amorsolo highlights female subjects and painted the piece with the intention of remembering a moment in history.

'The Continuing Revolution' by Leonilo Dolirocon

Leonilo Dolirocon's socialist art at the National Gallery in Manila in 2017. Kandukuru Nagarjun via Flickr  

A more contemporary work by Leonilo Dolirocon builds on the themes of revolution, freedom and bravery seen in the Bonifacio monument and mirrors Francisco's layered style. On one side of Dolirocon's The Continuing Revolution drawing, we see the execution of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and the leaders of the Katipunan waving their banner. The other half of the work shows modern-day workers striving in areas of technology, science, agriculture and fishing.

Dolirocon’s subject matter often centres on the dispossessed to bring to light labour practices that affect workers in the Philippines, while emphasising their dignity as well.