The Bright Side of Life:
The Weather is Nice by Reen Barrera
by Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
Beginning with his first solo exhibition, Reen Barrera has been evolving his own character that is invested not only with an identity and a personality but also a name. The artist calls this figure, Ohlala, and we see it in new contexts and situations in Barrera’s fifth solo show, The Weather is Nice.
With slanted eyes, full round face, and a pair of perky little horns, Ohlala appears to be the embodiment of Barrera’s childhood fantasy—a mischievous little punk that is out to do some stunt to enliven a jaded world. It’s hard not to fall into the wily trap of this figure that is bursting at the seams with equal dose of cuteness, innocence, and irony, expressed by its side glances, knowing gaze, and fitfully closed mouth.
Looking at Ohlala, one wonders what this figure is up to, with the way it comforts a dead version of itself or teases a dog out of its doghouse with some branch. It lets us in on the joke, but we are left to speculate on the outcome of its antics. Is it a sunshine in a bottle or the devil incarnate itself?
No matter, Ohlala seems not to care; its cuteness looks like it’s a burden. On its face are symbols, glyphs, and marks that indicate a life already lived. Ohlala has history, which it carries proudly, for all the world to see.
Accompanying this suite of paintings are toy sculptures that are the three-dimensional versions of Ohlala. Now, Ohlala can be seen from all sides, touched, played with. It even moves in its own accord, and we, the viewers, simply have to devote attention. This sculptural rendition is the closest Ohlala can come to life, and it’s pretty much a spectacle to behold that it now occupies our world.
Possibly, Barrera has been influenced by the superflat aesthetic of Takashi Murakami and the neo-pop spirit of Yoshitomo Nara, but Ohlala is all his own. By delving into his “toy-deprived” childhood, the artist has been able to create a figure that is complex, memorable, and destined to become one of the more enduring characters of the Philippine art scene. It would be interesting to see how Barrera intends to develop Ohlala as a character in the future, but now that the weather is nice, let’s enjoy Ohlala as much as our adult sense of wonder can allow.