The non-brutal submissions in Archie Geotina’s Tropikal Brutalism

Entering the small darkened room on the second floor of Modeka Art, my isolated senses first caught on the smell of roses. Rose petals were clumped under every work, an olfactory interface to the subject at hand, laid out like an offering. Above the red petals, black and white photographic works accented the sinuous flesh of female bodies tied by ropes. 

At first sight, the almost-naked bondaged models in Archie Geotina’s Tropikal Brutalism appear in direct opposition to the Filipiniana-wearing drifting surfers in Pearls, a project where Geotina served as the creative director and was exhibited at Qube Gallery back in 2022. With the artist contending that there is also liberation in “embracing submission as a path to freedom and peace,” Tropikal Brutalism and Pearls shared similarities in more ways than one.

‘Pearls’ by Archie Geotina, Bren Lopez, Ikit & Aping Agudo. Mounted view on Follow the Water exhibit by Emerging Islands at San Juan, La Union.

Even though Geotina is a surfer, he collaborated with photographers Bren Lopez and Jose Mirasol for Pearls recognizing how surf photography is another art form. While Geotina is now behind the camera in Tropikal Brutalism, he also worked with another expert, Joyen Santos, who introduced Geotina to shibari (a Japanese style of rope bondage) and similarly considers her own practice as its own art form. In both projects, the attires were a key element to foreground the themes. So much so that Geotina mentioned that the first step in Pearls was to “find the right Filipiniana dresses” that are traditionally made—an arduous search that eventually led them to Rafaella’s. This challenge bore fruit in the final visual output which exemplified the strength, composure, and grace of a Filipina. For Tropikal Brutalism, the garments and fabrics from Rajo Laurel and Natalya Lagdameo contributed to the visual and textual contrast against the ropes tied to the semi- and fully-clothed muses.

‘Untitled’ (2023) and ‘Violent Crimes’ (2023) by Archie Geotina. Exhibition view.

While both projects involved photography, Geotina’s works at Modeka materialized in different media. The high contrast black and white prints for Pearls were printed using inkjet on archival German etching paper, while he printed on canvas and performed photo transfer on reclaimed wood for Tropikal Brutalism. An artist working with grayscale photos had to be deliberate with their materials and technique to control the color of the output especially with the whites which are normally not printed by laser or inkjet printers. With Geotina’s usage of latex ink in his new works, he was able to play with the shades of white in his canvases. The thin cream strip he applied per canvas also added a color dimension to the otherwise monochromatic images. 

Trying to surmise his transfer technique on the reclaimed wood can give a glimpse of his careful and exacting execution with how seamlessly the images appeared. To consider as well was the reclaimed wood itself which was made of conjoined wooden slats. In a way, how he implemented the photo transfer could be read as a physical manifestation of his general attitude towards the project, particularly as he deals with women’s naked bodies. The way the models posed displayed a level of comfort despite the rope around their torsos or legs. Presenting the sinuous quality of the flesh through shibari is essential to the art. As mentioned in a Guardian article, “Central to the art is creating patterns that contrast and complement the natural curves of the (usually female) body. The beauty lies in juxtaposition: bare skin against rough rope, strength against exposure, a sense of calm against the knife-edge of risk.”

‘Mother’s Milk’ (2023), ‘Someday I Will Wear A Starry Crown’ (2023), ‘Psylosabit’ (2023), and detail of ‘Looove (Love is the positive of Lust)’ (2023) by Archie Geotina. Exhibition view.

There sprung the other concept Geotina points to in his exhibit notes: stoicism. Central to shibari is the virtue of letting go of control, one of the many exercises in practicing stoic philosophy. Aside from the capitulation on the physical act with the bunny (the one being tied) surrendering to the rigger (the one doing the tying), there is also the acceptance of the aftermath of the camera trigger. In sensual photo shoots, the consent to be seen can go beyond the studio with the knowledge that the photographs will be displayed in a public space. And so, the agency of the female nude – a contentious battleground in art history – is something to be pondered as well for the works in this exhibit. 

Four pieces of Manila Maker x Archie Geotina at the center, surrounded by ‘You Are Exactly Where You Need To Be’ (2023), ‘Untitled’ (2023), ‘Violent Crimes’ (2023), ‘I Hate Being Bi-Polar It's Awesome’ (2023), ‘Mother’s Milk’ (2023), and ‘Someday I Will Wear A Starry Crown’ (2023). Exhibition view.

Aside from the entanglement of bodies, there was another enmeshment of limbs at the center of the room, that of the wooden stools and bench made by the artist with furniture studio Manila Maker. Geotina shared on Instagram how he was inspired by how “the monolithic structures and brutalist architecture around [the Philippines] … blend so well with our tropical environment.” From the statement, the idea behind the repurposed pieces may have been the genesis of the exhibit title Tropikal Brutalism, the terms applicable to the surrounding undulating figures at the surface level. Perhaps, the essence of the lack of brutality on the bodies is in itself a statement.


Tropikal Brutalism by Archie Geotina was on view at Modeka Art, Makati from August 5 to 26, 2023. 


Lk Rigor had a 180-degree career shift in 2021, from IT to the arts. After spending more than half a decade in tech, she is now pursuing her passion in art and writing. She is currently juggling her postgraduate art studies at UP Diliman, research assistant duties, and freelance writing. Her research interests lie in the realms of photography, archives, contemporary art, and film.

Images courtesy of the writer.