As one of the foremost artists working in the vein of Social Realism, Alfredo Esquillo has cast a hard light on societal ills, especially those concerning faith, religion, and belief. In this work, Eksit sa Itaas, Esquillo portrays ordinary folks as they navigate the labyrinthine spaces of day-to-day life. While every swing door has an “Exit” sign, it leads to the self-same enclosure, trapping them. Part of their navigation is their avowal of faith, which is represented by Crucifix adorned with garlands of sampaguita and held aloft by a Black Nazarene devotee, who is identified by his maroon shirt. Most of them wearing gas masks or holding handkerchiefs to their faces, they are assailed by an equivocal stench. Only the woman, whose determination to get to the end of the maze is visible on her expression, seems not to mind, all the while carrying an infant. Seeming unaware and detached from the commotions below is a long-haired flutist — a modern-day Orpheus. Lying among cardboard clouds, he seems to have transcended the people’s quotidian concerns — an image of leisure and inactivity that is a stark contrast to what is transpiring below him. Eksit sa Itaas, in a way, is an allegory of the alternative solace of art, if we are to consider that religion, as how Karl Marx puts, is the opium of the people.
Esquillo’s noted focus religious images unconsciously began in high school after developing a fascination for drawing churches. It was also during this time when he learned how to paint with oils, under the tutelage of “commercial artists”.
His avowed inflenced are realists, led by Renato Habulan and Antipas Delotavo, both famed for their ortaits of the sociopolitical scenario.
The artist’s creative process is nothing mysterious: he always starts with a theme, which to him calls the multiple beliefs, the argument between religions, he eventually came up with the labyrinth as a symbol, an image which would pervade a majority of his works.
Eksit sa Itaas made the rounds of cultural institutions, such as the Generalitat Valenciana (Valencia, Spain), Museo dela Iberia y Latino-America (Badajoz, Spain), Spanish Cultural Centre (Havana, Cuba), Ponce Museum (Puerto Rico), and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (Manila) before it was exhibited at Masa Kultura, Esquillo’s first solo exhibition, at the Hiraya Gallery in Manila in 1998.