Zweet Sixteen

Exhibition Details

By Carlo Vergara, Rene Cuvos, JC Penaflorida, Merlito Gepte, Buen Abrigo, Burn Aquino, Irish Galon, Amos Malayao, Teofilo Alagao Jr., Norlito Meimban

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A Pinoy superhero with red, voluminous hair, perfectly sculpted body, well-endowed bosom, and distinct gay lingo—characteristics that immediately bring to mind one of the more popular local comic icons of the recent decade: Zsazsa Zaturnnah.

Carlo Vergara, an award-winning artist who has dabbled in print media and theater, gave birth to Zaturnnah 16 years ago. He was then preoccupied with a script for another graphic novel, but the image of a person swallowing a huge rock kept nagging at him until he had to relent. In December 2002, Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah saw the light of day.

For the uninitiated, Zaturnnah is the superhero alter ego of an ordinary person named Ada, the gay owner of a humble salon in an equally humble town. Upon ingesting a huge rock from outer space, Ada transforms into Zaturnnah, who is endowed with superpowers that enable her to help people in need. She has, of course, a love interest: the dreamy, oft-shirtless Dodong; and nemesis, Queen Femina and her team of Amazonistas who all hail from another planet.

Zaturnnah could have been just another local komiks creation—a bit of Wonder Woman or perhaps Darna—but the similarities are few and far between. Whether as the red-haired superhero or as the gay parlorista, the character’s realistic struggles resonated with the readers. “People may see her story as humorous, but to me, the humor is just a channel for me to explore her humanity,” says Vergara. “At this stage, Zaturnnah is still a reluctant hero. She’s still unsure if this is her true destiny, since all she ever wanted was to lead a normal life. Most [people] want a ‘normal life,’ but we often get that big rock that throws us off.” This authenticity brought more attention to Vergara’s work, which has then been made into a movie and a musical play. It has also been the subject of academic essays and other media outlets.

The popularity of his work took Vergara by surprise. As something borne out of his own personal struggles, Vergara did not expect Zaturnnah’s rise to stardom. “I honestly think that her first book isn’t as funny as people said it was. I wrote it to help me get through a rough chapter in my life. In fact, I didn’t plan on making a sequel. But people wanted one, so
I’ve been spending the past decade trying to finish it (Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila). Thankfully I’m almost done,” he elaborates.

And just like Zaturnnah, Vergara is also reluctant about his own success as an artist, so much so that when Space Encounters Gallery and its furniture arm, Space Encounters, reached out to him for a collaboration, Vergara could not wrap his head around the opportunity. He only ever wanted a Zaturnnah-inspired chair or perhaps a cabinet, he confessed; he did not expect that an entire furniture collection and a gallery exhibit came with the deal.

It is, arguably, the first time for a local gallery and a furniture store to stage such an elaborate show that centers on a graphic novel icon. After all, it’s a celebration of Zaturnnah’s 16th anniversary, hence the title Zweet Sixteen. Wilmer Lopez and Thor Balanon, the duo behind Space Encounters, are also big fans of Zaturnnah. The two agree that this undertaking is something that ties in well with the brands they have proudly established: Space Encounters—both the gallery and the furniture store—loves to shake things up and push the boundaries when it comes to local art and design. “We always want to be irreverent at least once a year, so this is the time of the year to be irreverent,” says Balanon. “It is the first joint effort between the furniture store and the gallery. It will also be the new collection of the furniture store. We also wanted different artists to interpret Zsazsa Zaturnnah in their own vision and from their own point of view,” adds Lopez.

Suffice it to say that this exhibit is pulling out all the stops. Expect to see Zaturnnah and Queen Femina battling it out as chairs suspended in mid-air, or the Amazonistas as wall décor garbed in neon lights. Intergalactic elements are turned into sitting pieces, and Dodong is interpreted as an ultra-comfortable leather seat. Meanwhile, various artists like Rene Cuvos, Norlie Meimban, Buen Abrigo, JC Peñaflorida, Burn Aquino, Fitz Herrera, Irish Galon, Amos Malayao, Merlito Gepte, and Teofilo Alagao Jr., create their own take on the vivacious superhero.

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