Karagatan (The Breadth of Oceans), 2016
Oil on mother-of-pearl shell and oil on pearl (set of 50)
Diameter 2.54–5 cm (each); installation dimensions variable
Collection of the Artist
Singapore Biennale 2016 commission
Echoing the mystery of the mirror, this evocative installation does a poetic turn: in looking at the work, the work unnervingly looks back at you. Karagatan portrays the eyes of residents in coastal villages across the Philippines, ranging from fishermen to pearl divers, a master boat-builder, shell traders and others. The result of the artist’s research are delicate paintings that capture the tiny, distinctive characteristics of each subject’s eye: lines, curves and contours, which transform into unusual and unexpected portraits. As miniatures, the works draw upon a hallowed tradition associated with the royal courts, yet here, these tiny portraits map a community of coastal people who labour to harvest the bounty of the ocean but rarely reap its wealth. Halili pays homage to people whose fates and fortunes are bound to the ocean, limning their likeness on precious mother-of-pearl gleaned from the deep.