Like most artists, Manny Montelibano’s creative journey is deeply rooted in the land he calls home, Negros Occidental. Though born and based in Bacolod City, his growing up years were spent in extensive exposures to the countryside, notably in Ilog, Hinigaran and Kabankalan. It was in these places where his consciousness of the Negrosanon way of life took shape: the complicated, sometimes violent, conflicts and social issues between the landowner and the sacadas, the beauty and simplicity of rural living, the daily lives of plain farm workers mired in poverty but lived in dignity, the oppression wrought by the feudal system that is the hallmark of Negros. He saw this in all its stark, unblemished reality.
The greatness of an artist, it has been said, is in seeing truth and not blinking from it but instead absorbing it, no matter how painful or difficult the truth may be. Montelibano did not blink. He took it all in and used it to help shape his distinct world-view.
As a middle-class youth exposed to the harsh realities of a still-largely feudal society, Montelibano saw the stunning contrasts that existed in his home province where huge 19th century ancestral mansions co-existed with shanties and slums. This contrast shaped and to a certain extent defined Montelibano’s young artistic sensibilites. He became staunchly nationalistic, fiercely proud of his Negros heritage and yet constantly challenging the status quo that pervades his beloved Negros.
After graduating he became involved with two groups largely instrumental in the unleashing of his vast creative energies. In the early 1990’s, the Negros Summer Workshops, led by Peque Gallaga, invited him in to teach Film Production, a field he had long been involved in with his college friends Erik Matti, Tonipet Yulo and yours truly. Under the tutelage of Gallaga and Lore Reyes, Manny flourished as a film-maker.
It was also around this time, when he became an active member of the Black Artists of Asia. Egged on by founding members Charlie Co and Dennis Ascalon, he began experimenting with multi-media installations, an art form that, at that time, very few artists in the Visayan region dared to tackle. As part of BAA he became actively involved in community arts organizing, touring the Visayas as part of the biennial Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exhibit and Conference or VIVA-EXCON.
It was through his experience with these groups that Montelibano found his artistic voice. His short-film/video installation “My Way” garnered critical acclaim here and abroad and was shown in Open Art Space in Victoria Canada. His full-length film “Ligaw-Liahm” co-directed with Jay Abello was a finalist at the 2007 Cinemalaya Film Festival. His multi-media installation, “Birhaus” co-created with Peque Gallaga was chosen to be part of Sungdu-an, a nationwide exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, produced by the Visual Arts Committee of the National Commission for the Culture & Arts.
He has recently returned from an art exposure trip to Netherlands and Germany where he spent countless days in galleries and museums that featured classical as well as avant-garde works of art.
“Greater than Or Equal To”, Montelibano’s s third one-man show, heralds the coming-of-age of an artist whose works offer a refreshing look at Filipino culture and way-of-life as seen through the prism of a Negrosanon Truly, through the visual arts, Montelibano has found the perfect venue through which he can express his unique view of the world as it is. And what an amazingly interesting world it is that he shows us. Conflicted, complex, provocative and never-simplistic, Montelibano’s multi-media installations are bound to challenge audiences for years to come.