That Distant Voice, mixed media on canvas, 48x108 inches, 2013


And the rest is history: The Art of Don Salubayba

Artworks of the late Don Salubayba purports that history is never a thing of the past; it is ever present, tainting or enhancing all that is and will be

  • June 4, 2020

  • Written by Sibyl Layag

  • Introduction by Gabrielle de la Cruz

  • Images courtesy of The BenCab Art Foundation

At a time of crisis and isolation, the role of art becomes more essential to people’s lives. The constraints of leaving our homes imply a larger need for creativity, utilizing talents and skills to engage in discussions, establish beliefs, and express opinions. We revisit the works of the late Filipino artist Don Salubayba, who, in his own artistry, fused significant historical events with the banalities of the present.


Everything in the present bears the mark of things past. The timetables, datelines, and chronologies most are familiar with, useful as they may be in the study of history, are misrepresentations of the very concept of time. Like a clock, history and time are cyclical. And so, worrying about how the past haunts and hounds the present is, so to speak, anachronistic: outdated, outmoded, and, ironically, a backward way of thinking.

Pasteurized Past, mixed media on canvas, 42 x 53 inches, 2013

This is the idea that Davao-born visual artist Don Salubayba endeavors to express in his recent collection of works, which was presented last August in an exhibit titled Anachronistic Anxiety at the BenCab Museum. The paintings are composed of imagery that harks back to the turn of the century, when film was introduced, at the time when technologies pushed print production to an industrial scale. Salubayba draws inspiration from this period and emphasizes the significance of it in the production and widespread distribution of images.

Don-Salubayba-U-LOL
U-LOL, mixed media on canvas, 46 x 56 inches, 2013
Passively Aggressive, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, 2013

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The colors are subdued, the images seemingly clouded over. Each artwork is presented in a way that is reminiscent of a palimpsest, or pages in a manuscript from which the writing has been erased, and then used again. As such, the overall images bear vestiges of other images that were, on a conceptual level, deemed irrelevant or archaic enough to be erased, and then written or drawn over. Yet, they are still visible, in a way that compellingly infuses meaning into the whole picture. 

International Vanity, mixed media on canvas, 46 x 56 inches, 2013
Don Salubayba - Container
Container, mixed media on canvas, 46 x 56 inches, 2013

In this manner, Salubayba purports that history is never a thing of the past; it is ever-present, tainting, or enhancing all that is and will be. Thus, being overly concerned with history repeating itself is a meaningless exercise and a practice in redundancy. At the same time, the artist pays tribute to past events—namely, the boom of the print industry and the advent of film—through the aesthetic aspect of his work. As writer Tesla X, who worked closely with Salubayba relates, “History is a bridge we cross over and over again, ever-changing in our constant re-alignment to ourselves.”

This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 5 2013. Edits were made for BluPrint online.

READ MORE: Fusing Old and New: National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera

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