Samantha Carle on “Propaganda” by Joey Cobcobo

“Everyday objects function as a lens. Our material culture can allow us to better see some of the most prominent paradoxes of culture and society. The ideas that shape them, the meanings they mediate, these ordinary and ubiquitous objects can become a rich and fertile ground for viewing society in complex and vivid ways.”

Samantha Carle, FOM Docent for STPI

The bakya serves as such a lens in the work of Joey Cobcobo. A Filipino cultural remnant and latterly a design icon, collectible art form and fashion resurgent, the bakya originated as utilitarian footwear. Made primarily of lightwood, it was sculpted with a slope and shaved to a smooth finish. High enough to keep feet out of the dirt and water, the sides were wide and carved with intricate cultural motifs, floral designs and landscapes varnished to a high sheen. The upper portions, made of rubber or transparent plastic, were fastened to the sides by ‘clavitos’, or small thumbnails. The humble bakya became omnipresent and was widely exported as the industry prospered during the 1930s.

The coming of the Japanese and the introduction of rubber slippers as footwear, whose prime material proved much lighter compared to wood, dealt a big blow to the bakya industry. One by one, wooden bakya shops began to close and surviving manufacturers were pushed to limit their production. The bakya was demoted to low social economic groups and the term ‘bakya’ became synonymous with poor taste, used to indicate something low class, unsophisticated or cheap. ‘Bakya’ became a sensibility, not just a kitsch aesthetic or a national symbol.

In Cobcobo’s work, Propaganda, the bakya is resurrected and carved again, this time on the part less visible but which directly impacts the ground, the country itself. Instead of the purely decorative, Cobcobo has carved the soles of the shoes with images and texts that reference tenets of belief systems, national moral codes and divine intervention, the revised penal code and the constitution of the Philippines. The audience is invited to put on the inked shoe and create an imprint on the canvas, to stand together in the same paradigmatic shoes and make their mark.

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