IBON Foundation is greatly saddened by the passing of Prof. Neil Doloricon, long-time member of our Board of Trustees and life-long artist for radical reforms in the Philippines and society. When Neil joined the Board in 2006 his immense body of art included piercing works on social and economic issues. He was a member of the Audit Committee since 2016 and became Treasurer in 2019. We are immensely grateful for how he enriched IBON with how he saw and interpreted the world.
Neil was born in Surigao del Sur on December 1, 1957, just months after the tyrannical Anti-Subversion Act was signed into law and unleashed a wave of political repression on the country. Decades later in 2020, as then chairperson of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), he was among many prominent petitioners questioning the constitutionality of the likewise tyrannical Anti-Terrorism Law at the Supreme Court. He remained CAP’s chairperson emeritus since the end of his term in May this year.
He finished his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman amid the revolutionary ferment under the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s – later going on to also get his Master of Arts degree there in Philippine Studies. Neil would however be the first to argue that his education most of all came from being deeply immersed in the labor movement and anti-dictatorship struggles. He passed away a beloved professor at the UP College of Fine Arts which he was the dean of from 1998-2001.
Neil’s art was from the very beginning honed as a weapon for crafting society as part of a much larger social movement. He was among the pantheon of social realists – including Baen Santos, Delotavo, Fernandez, Habulan and Tence Ruiz – who founded the Kaisahan art group in 1975. To the end of his days and through all his works that outlive his passing, there was no other kind of art to be made.
His peers have long given him due recognition: Gawad para sa Sining Biswal by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1990; Jose and Asuncion Joya Professorial Chair in 1999; Guillermo Tolentino Professorial Chair in 2004; and the Fernando Amorsolo Professorial Chair in 1994 and in 2011. Neil has exhibited widely in the Philippines and abroad including in Tokyo, New York, San Diego, Madrid, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Moscow.
His output over decades is prodigious. Going far beyond his iconic rubber cuts are paintings, murals, collages, cartoons and comics. The countless illustrations he made for educational materials for unionists and other activists are particularly cogent in expressing the politics of his art – it is meant to sharpen our understanding of society, spur action, and change the world.
As a result, Neil’s art spread widely and reaches so many not as commercial pieces but most of all on the sheer strength of their politics, indeed even so when shown in catalogues and galleries. If they are found in so many of our homes, offices and organizations today and are indelibly etched in our minds, it is most likely because of how freely and generously he shared them and not from being bought or bartered. The internet gives his art deserved immortality.
His subject matter is diverse and relentless, spanning depictions of daily realities to commenting on urgent issues of the day to elaborating on the contradictory social forces that are ever in play. They go far beyond the pedestrian social realist stereotype of merely showing chronic poverty, misery and hunger.
Neil’s editorial cartoons are razor-sharp on current political events such as the grave threats to freedom of thought and expression today. But he is particularly exceptional in visualizing burning economic issues – landlessness and labor exploitation, regressive taxes and debt, infrastructure projects and budget deficits, trade and investment liberalization, inflation and privatization, pork barrel and corruption, and so much more that so few other artists take up. His humor is scathing and the visual wit ferocious. He was also always well-informed and frequently asked IBON staff details about economic concerns.
To him, none of these are mere accidents of circumstance but from the conscious efforts of landlords, capitalists and imperialist aggressors to oppress and dispossess. Most importantly, he is keenly conscious of how they are vigorously opposed by protest movements and even armed revolutionary struggles.
The literally hundreds of thousands of images that Neil gives us is a stunning visualization of Philippine society and the world in motion. Appreciating them stirs us all to uproot entrenched structures of exploitation and power. He shows the brutal world we live in but also the beautiful inspiration of people resolute, determined and unafraid against brutes. Even in his darkest works, there is always unrelenting faith in the power of collective struggles to shape the world for the better.
Prof. Neil passed away in the dark of night and just hours before dawn. This was very much like his life’s work – darkly powerful but, always, politically hopeful and looking to the impending breaking of light. ###