More historic Hocus paintings at the National Museum

Photographs courtesy of National Museum

The National Museum of the Philippines has put on permanent display five more Hocus paintings at the National Museum of Anthropology located just across the National Museum of Fine Arts. The first batch was hung at the National Museum of Fine Arts in 2017.

The additional five paintings are part of the Quadricula, Hocus II Exhibition, one of the most successful exhibitions that art enthusiasts and historians have witnessed so far in the National Museum of Fine Arts.  There are only 87 Hocus paintings in existence because its intellectual author, Saul Hofileña Jr., has decided to put an end to the series.

Among the paintings now on display is The Spanish Quadricula, which shows Intramuros with its 64 hectares of land enclosed by an irregularly shaped wall that began to take form during the reign of Governor-General Santiago de Vera.

The painting shows a conquistador and a friar laying out a network of squares in a grill pattern for Intramuros

— the Quadricula — with the aid of celestial beings. Angels descend upon Fort Santiago bearing the symbols of conquest.

Below them are the ships of the empire at the Port of Cavite, now Sangley Point and the Cavite Naval Yard. Forming the foremost point of the scalene triangle, these serve as defensive fortifications that protect Manila; the two other points of the triangle are Fort San Antonio Abad and Intramuros.

The second painting, Swords of the Cross, shows the Christian Cross formed by a Spanish and a Roman sword. The latter symbolizes Rome’s vital contribution to the theological underpinnings of the Spanish Empire as it subjugated nameless indios in the name of God and King.

The third painting, The Dreamweavers, shows Lake Sebu in Cotobato, around which the T’boli settled. The T’boli are famous for the T’nalak cloth made from abaca fibers with designs conveyed to them in their dreams by their gods. One of their gods is Fu Dalu.  Clockwise starting from the upper right, a T’boli woman weaves the M’Baga Klagan with the Loos Klagan, a spirit that inflicts diseases. The T’nalak cloth is used to appease Loos Klagan who, according to T’boli tradition, protects them from all afflictions.  The second woman weaves a pattern symbolizing Fu-el, the T’boli goddess of waters.

‘Anghel de Cuyacuy.’

The third T’boli weaver on the lower left executes a design in honor of Ogow Tenbe Beniteng, the T’boli mermaid, whose long hair flows with the seas, rivers and lakes. The fourth weaver intertwines abaca threads and offers her t’nalak to M’Baga F’low which protects one from the F’low or a bad spirit; offending the F’low may lead to illness, if not death.

At the very center stands Fu Dalu, the serene Goddess of the Weave. Unknown to her, a Christian Cross is slowly emerging from her domain, the enchanting lake Sebu. Significantly, the Cross is draped with a t’nalak bearing with the Buling Longit design that symbolizes an imagined heaven gloriously adorned with the patterns, colors, and images of all the T’boli dream weaves from time immemorial.

The Cross looms over Lake Sebu replacing Buling Longit because Spanish missionaries assimilated the symbolic vocabulary and the woven syntax of the mystical dream patterns conveyed by the t’nalak.

Photographs courtesy of National Museum
‘Swords of the Cross’ (4 feet x 5 feet, oil on canvas).

The fourth painting, the Secrets of the Laguna Copperplate, is oil on canvas and measures 3 feet x 4 feet. The secrets of the Laguna Copperplate, which is the oldest written document of the Philippines, are not easy to decipher. The copperplate speaks of the payment of a pre-hispanic debt by a certain Namwran to the Chief of Dewata. The copperplate is shrouded with vestiges of our pre-Hispanic past: A Javanese Kinnari lamp is seen; there are two golden death masks circa 10th-13th century A.D. excavated in Butuan, Agusan del Norte; a golden figure of the deity unearthed in an ancient kingdom in Surigao sits beneath the half-man half-bird kinnari.  Bejeweled pre-Hispanic natives straight from the Boxer Codex amble through the cryptic script of our ancestors.

A native clambers up a coconut tree to demand an explanation from the encamped Spaniards: “What have we done to your ancestors to justify your cruelties?”

Other paintings can be found on level 2 gallery 3.

The last of the paintings, Antitesis del angel de cuyacuy/Teleraña del colonialismo (Antithesis of the Anghel de Cuyacuy/Cobweb of Colonialism), is a 7 feet x 6.5 feet work done in oil on canvas.  A seven-headed Naga is seen with a stylized version of the Agusan Goddess found in 1917 on the banks of the Agusan River after a turbulent storm. The image was taken by the Americans to the United States and is now on display at the Field of Museum of Chicago. Together, the Naga and goddess symbolize the faith that came to these shores before the coming of the Europeans. Below is a pit with busts of the popes who reigned when these islands were under Spanish sovereignty.

Enmeshed in the cobweb of colonialism in various stages of death and near death are the Spaniards and their native auxiliaries—caught in the silken quagmire of their own doing.

Soldiers from the United States of America are seen climbing towards the woven threads, oblivious that they too would be ensnared in the deadly game of empire building like their Spanish predecessors.

‘Anghel de Cuyacuy.’

The Anghel de Cuyacuy

All Hocus paintings are signed with the icon of the anghel de cuyacuy, a Filipino angel reading a book, the brainchild of lawyer-historian Saul Hofileña Jr., author of the bestselling book Under the Stacks. He asked the painter Guy Custodio to put on canvas his thoughts about Philippine history, especially the Patronato Real.

National Museum Displays Historic Hocus Paintings

It includes the “La Pesadilla” (The Nightmare), a humungous painted triptych which, according to the late Carlos Celdran, in one of his last Facebook posts before he departed for Spain, is one of the most beautiful paintings that he has seen. It is a gem that is hidden in the East Wing Hallway Gallery located at the fourth floor of the National Museum of Fine Arts. There is now a total of eleven Hocus paintings on permanent display in the National Museum Complex. This is a welcome development because by viewing the Hocus paintings, Filipinos from all walks of life learn about their history.

According to an essay written by the late Sylvia Mayuga, Hofileña was, “Fueled by passion for human stories between the lines of archival material, fading memories and official fictions, he wanted a fuller retelling of the Philippine history he was writing in long essays published in the book ‘Under the Stacks’ six years ago. Meeting Guy crystallized his wish to deepen Filipino historical understanding with compelling portraits of indios shaped and misshaped by ‘those who have subjugated, harmed, loved and betrayed us.’ He was after meaning, nothing less.”

Guy Custodio, wrote in a preface to a book regarding the paintings that “he took instructions from Saul on how a painting should be done, the subject of each painting, the color schemes and all other matters that need to be done in order to transform paint and canvas or wood into a Hocus painting.”

He said that when he first started receiving Hofileña’s graphic ideas, he found the combination of objects that Hofileña asked him to paint incomprehensible. But a short and sometimes extended explanation of what he was asked to do, “… has given me an understanding of what Hofileña wanted to convey.”

Custodio’s explanation outlines for us how the paintings obtained their historical context and why the meaning of all the paintings are clearly explained in three books–Hocus (2017), Quadricula, Hocus II (2018) and Juicio Final, Hocus III (2022).

“The images and all the paintings have been registered in the Intellectual Property Office and so every single Hocus painting enjoys copyright protection,” continues Custodio.

There were two blockbuster Hocus exhibitions, the first was on April 18, 2017 to October 29, 2017 and the second, September 15, 2019 to March 15, 2020. Thousands visited the exhibition hall to view the paintings and visitors included priests, nuns, and acolytes.

The Curator of the Hocus paintings exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts was Gemma Cruz Araneta who was National Museum Director (1968-1971), Secretary of Tourism (1998-2001), Chairwoman of the Heritage Conservation Society (2002-2006) and Chairperson of the City of Manila’s Historical and Heritage Commission (2007- 2013). She is currently an op/ed columnist of the Manila Bulletin. Mrs. Araneta is a great grandniece of Jose Rizal and the first Filipina to win an international beauty title (1964).

Gemma Cruz Araneta writes: “There is a unique synergy between Hofileña and Custodio: The former has nightmarish visions rooted in our colonial history which the latter painstakingly paints on wood or canvas, in Filipino colonial style. In fact, during the opening of HOCUS, guests asked me where I found “the beautiful old paintings.” Where are the creators’ signatures? I pointed to the “Anghel de cuyacuy,” an indio angel in a white tunic with a squash hat, and always seated, reading a book while jiggling (cuyacuy) a leg. That icon is the HOCUS signature.


The HOCUS collection is not for sale, though during the exhibit there were a number of inquiries from private collectors. When the HOCUS ended, Saul Hofileña, Jr. donated six of the paintings to the National Museum of Fine Arts, a fitting closure of both the exhibition and Museum Month of 2017. On the 4th floor, in the main corridor leading to the Director’s office, the six HOCUS paintings are permanently on display for the pleasure and enlightenment of hundreds of thousands of museum visitors.

People have asked, how it could be possible that an intellectual author be different from the painter of the artwork. Hofileña explains: “I only remind them of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Simon and Garfunkel and the Gershwin brothers of the jazz age, whose partnerships in the musical arts have produced music and songs still being heard and sung today.”

What the Hocus paintings are all about

Hofileña says that the success of the Hocus exhibitions was rooted in their uniqueness and perhaps by the publicity generated. The paintings struck a sensitive chord because they told our story as a people. He asks the viewers to ponder on the paintings because these are chapters of our history presented in allegory.

Most art is a form of self-expression, so that the artist may, through his well-meaning brushstrokes, define himself and present his soul to his audience. The Hocus paintings, Hofileña says, differs from this mode of self-expression because each work is an expression of how our past has defined our souls conveyed through the medium of oil applied on stretched canvas or ancient wood. Each painting tells our stories as a people, and in the end unravels and reveals who we are and who we will become.

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