There is something delicious about the sound of whispering in the ear. It is intimate, secretive, and conveys a sense of privileged empowerment.
Filipino artist Emmanuel Garibay has caught this effervescent moment of delight where a listener catches the first breath of a new disclosure. We can just make out the glisten in the listener’s eyes, the pleasure that is awakening in their face, and the movement of their hair. There is a physical sense of ecstasy as we read the signs of the body filling up with this morsel of special knowledge. Information is power, especially in an environment where there is mistrust, rumour, and suspicion.
In the context of the social and political life of the Philippines there is a strong colonial imprint that orders social class and access to information. The status quo is well preserved by those in power. Speaking otherwise is not welcome, therefore rumour and secrets proliferate. In his work Garibay will often use irony and even parody to deflate the power of those who speak with assumed authority. His works often puncture the self-importance of the religious and political norms of his culture. This work reminds us, as listeners, that we are invited to engage an ethical framework, and not simply operate as an echo chamber for gossip.
The title of this work in Tagalog is salin which could be translated ‘to sift’. This is the human capacity for discernment, where one weighs up the relative truth of claims being made in the public realm. Listening is not just a matter of paying attention to the interesting, or even scandalously juicy, bits of the story, but to sort out the trustworthiness of the words, the speaker, the trajectory, and resultant affect of such speech. In a media-driven culture spin is the only constant. Words become a means to draw our attention away from the truth and facts of the matter. We are told what we want to hear. Crowds tend to form around shared anxieties. Crowds want their questions to be turned into a chorale of sweet and comforting tunes, that are easy on the ear. James 3:5 reminds us that ‘the tongue is a small member, but it boasts of great exploits’ (NRSV). Such boasting needs careful scrutiny by a well-tuned ear.
Garibay, Emmanuel. 2011. Where God is: The Paintings of Emmanuel Garibay, New Haven: Overseas Ministry Study Centre)
3Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.