Renato Habulan is an artist born in Philippines, who is considered as one of the most important figures in social realism in the 1970s and 1980s in his native country. Emerging from the period of Martial Law in the Philippines, Habulan masterfully presents the poignant human condition amidst varying themes of social justice and religious imagery.
Renato Rentoria Habulan was born in 1953 in Manila, and he graduated from the University of the East School of Fine Arts in 1976. Coming from a working class family in Tondo, he developed awareness of the deteriorating social conditions and struggle of the workers. He was one of the major members of Kaisahan, a group of socially committed artists during the period of dictatorship in the Philippines’ Martial Law era in the 1970s. He is also a member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines. Also an award-winning watercolorist, Habulan represented the Philippines in the 1995 Cheju Biennale, South Korea and cited as a Cultural Center of the Philippines 13 Artists awardee in 1990.
In his works, Renato Habulan constantly explores the dialectics where the master and slave, native and colonial, lowlander and the ethnic collide in controlled tension. In the transition of incorporating mixed media alongside his works in oil on canvas, the sentimentality to the condition of man remains, as there continues to be a presence of anonymous people who bear daily injustice with fortitude, dignity and indomitable hope – as those who ‘stand erect amid the ruins’. The works attempt to ‘tell the stories of our people and the triumph of the human spirit in their daily struggle,’ as the artist himself states. Renato Habulan sought to portray the contrast between the rich and the poor using realistic figurism by painting landlords and tenants, the poor and the deprived. Even when he later shifted his themes from class struggle to the role of religion and tradition, he still creates artworks in the premise of social justice.
Recent boceto series of pen and ink drawings by Renato centers on a theme that the artist has continually reflected on throughout his practice – seeking parallels between the human condition and the suffering of Christ. The drawing series is a collection of stories about the subaltern, reflecting on the contemporary experience of alienation by also utilizing the iconography of Christian religious statuary. The format that Habulan chooses—pen and ink—also speaks of his resolve to engage in representation. ‘Post-modernism has rendered the wall-bound painting obsolete and narrative art as passé, but I do not want my art to be reduced into an object or focus on the materiality of my content,’ Habulan adds.
Renato Habulan lives and works in Manila, Philippines.