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Elmer Borlongan "Beast of Burden" - Acrylic on Canvas, 46 x 60 inches, 2022


Acrylic on Canvas

48 x 60 inches


Stark in its representation of the relationship between the worker and the capitalist and, by extension, between the poor and the rich, this large-scale work powerfully dramatizes the injustice implicit in the laissez-faire economy. With the muscles of his torso tense, the proletarian conducts back-breaking labor. Along with the delivery cart full of boxes held in place by flimsy strings, he pulls his boss along, who is indifferent to his plight, luxuriating in a relaxed position, holding a fat cigar. It’s emblematic of the imbalance of the economic scale, which is made all the more pronounced by the pandemic—alluded to by the mask worn the wage-earner. As a huge chunk of the labor force lost their jobs, the elite became more affluent. Beast of Burden is a reminder how little has been remedied in the treatment of workers since time immemorial (the boxes resemble stones of the pyramid carried into place by slaves). Value is placed on capital, and not labor which actually generates wealth. While the viewer may assume that the power lies on the merchant, it is the worker that holds the cart. Should he decide to let go of it, both the cargo and the capitalist will crash spectacularly. Elmer Borlongan will not let the comfortable rest easy.

About the artist

Elmer Borlongan, born in 1967 is a visual artist who took up Fine Arts major in Painting from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Borlongan is one of the founding members of the Grupong Salingpusa art collective, an informal group of young student artists from UP Diliman and Antipolo. The group eventually became one of the significant movers and voices in the Philippine contemporary art movement. Elmer grew up in Mandaluyong City but decided to move with his wife, Plet to Zambales in 2002. His career in painting and drawing was preceded by his foray into printmaking.

Borlongan was a recipient of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artist Awards in 1994. He was also selected as a delegate to the ASEAN Youth Painting Workshop and Exhibition when he was in second-year college. The exhibition was held at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and exposed him to new developments in Southeast Asia.

Borlongan shares that his work has constantly evolved through the years. He always tries to challenge himself with new materials and different subject matters. For him, change is inevitable, it is something to be embraced as a constant in life. He wants to be able to always find a change in directions and avoid stagnation. He tries to experiment with new materials so he can always learn and work on something he has not tried before.