This study of National Artist H. R. Ocampo argues for the critical necessity of producing a theoretical language adequate to modernist abstract painting in the Philippines. It situates Ocampo’s stylistic shift from Social Realism to what is called “Neorealism” in the context of a post-war exhaustion of the narrative possibilities of nationalism. Both as a result of foreign domination and in order to get at a “pre-ideological” reality, the visual is first sheared off from a matrix of linguistic signification unavoidably overdetermined by questions of the nation. Later, with the Marcos appropriations of Philippine modernism, the momentarily autonomous visual indexed by abstract art is itself shown to be caught up in the ongoing argument over authentic nationalism. Beginning with Ocampo’s Social Realist short story “Rice and Bullets,” the essay explores the logic of abstraction and figuration in Ocampo’s work. The essay argues that his process of abstraction is intimately connected to people’s struggles, the sense that politics was somehow deeper than available language, and a world-historical shift in the nature of signification. The essay then turns to the fate of international abstract art and proposes some readings of the later abstract paintings of Ocampo. Finally it draws on Vicente Rafael’s reading of writer Jose “Pete” Lacaba’s politicization during the First Quarter Storm, to indicate some of the ways in which abstract images dissociated from “reality” might be utilized in the struggle for social justice.


Philippine abstract art, Philippine modernism, neorealism, social realism

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)