Beyond the Zone
In this new exhibition, Grow Some Balls, Lui Manaig departs from the kaleidoscopic visual style that has characterized his body of work to a spared-down, almost minimalist, aesthetic. Primarily composed of works on paper, Manaig, with the exception of two works such as “Always Going Back to My Comfort Zone,” inflects his signature background patterns on the bodies of the figures. White space provides formal context to them. Such stylistic departure doesn’t mean that Manaig has also left behind the themes that he has been exploring for quite some time: masculinity, gender, sexuality, and identity, chief among them.
In the work, “Man with a Thousand Fake Balls,” for instance, the figure is covered with scrotums from head to torso, his hands opening his shirt suggestively for all the world to see. Manaig, through this work, is exploring toxic masculinity, in which those born male are meant to subscribe to the stereotypes of their gender. Falling short of this set of expectations brands anyone “queer,” “soft,” “unmanly”—a perception that has been internalized by the gays themselves who generally prefer straight-acting, “manly” partners.
Such construct can easily be dismantled by the argument posed by another work, “This is my Balls.” Sexual attraction, as this work attests, doesn’t reside on the reproductive organ but on the brain, which may have been conditioned to like certain characteristics. Certainly, the work can also be a metaphor for sapiosexuals, those who are primarily attracted to intelligence. The real erogenous zone is gray matter.
In “Emotional Stability Program for a Night,” Manaig investigates the current climate of promiscuity. Now more than ever, it seems that people seek emotional comfort from orgies and one-night stands, which temporarily cures loneliness that will only spring up the following day. This replacement of connection by sexual contact, represented by ravenous hands, is devastating, as there is no end in sight for such a perpetual hunger for comfort.
Grow Some Balls also conducts forays within the realm of autobiography, through works that examine psychological and emotional tensions. “Fear is an Illusion” shows a figure confronting himself in the mirror, as if to drive home the point that fear is not an external reality but an internal compulsion. The title of “Sorry for Blaming You When I’m Tired” pretty much sums up the content of the piece: a son, who may have offended his parents, is depicted genuflecting in front of them seeking for contrition and forgiveness.
Possibly capturing the spirit of the entire exhibition is the soft sculpture, “My Colored Eggs and Canvas Nest.” Protected by a vitrine, the work shows a group of eggs culled from dry pigment and lying within a nest-shaped canvas—the two main materials of Manaig’s artistry. The eggs are composed of a multiplicity of colors, and this contrasts with the purity of the canvas, as if to suggest that the maturation of creativity and artistic career is imminent. These are the other “balls” alluded to in the title: whole, solid, about to break through.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana