Jul 19 2021

Obituary: Neil Doloricon (1957–2021)

by Suining Sim

Portrait of NEIL DOLORICON. Courtesy Erehwon Center for the Arts, Manila.

On July 16, Leonilo “Neil” Doloricon, a pillar of social realism in the Philippines whose work in art, criticism, and education won him the moniker “the people’s artist,” passed away at the age of 63 from an undisclosed cause.

Born in 1957 in Surigao del Sur, Doloricon came of age under Ferdinand Marcos’s reign, which would inform his work in both the dictatorship’s oppression and the revolutionary movements it inspired. From the 1970s to the early ’80s, Doloricon pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual communication and a Masters in Philippine studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, where he became involved with the labor and anti-authoritarian movements he would consider his true education. In 1975, he became a founding member of the Kaisahan group, a social realist collective that sought to build a humane and just society.

Doloricon’s passion for social justice runs through his oeuvre, which includes not only his best-known cartoons, featured regularly in newspapers like The Manila Times, for which he was an editorial cartoonist, but also paintings, murals, and collages. In 1981, his first solo exhibition, titled “Mga Biktima ng Lipunan (Victims of Society),” foregrounded the struggles of the Filipino farmer and urban poor in a way that would be characteristic of his work. One of his most famous works, Welga (1981), depicts six male jeepney drivers protesting against the Marcos regime, with their lower bodies covered by collaged newspaper articles on the strike. His practice saw art as an agent of change through education, inspiration, and the revelation of systemic oppression as the root of everyday problems. This message found audiences worldwide at his exhibitions in cities including Tokyo, New York, and Berlin. Later, he joined the residency program in Belgium’s Frans Masereel Centrum (2015) and St. Petersburg’s Pushkinskaya-10 (2018). He also acted as a delegate at the second Asian Cartoon Exhibit in Tokyo (1996), the formation of ASEAN Cartoonists’ Association in Kuala Lumpur (2000), and the ASEAN-China Academies of Fine Arts in Tianjin (2016).

Most recently, Doloricon criticized the Philippines’ Covid-19 response, producing a series of cartoons that accused President Rodrigo Duterte’s government of exploiting the health crisis for political gain. As chairman of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, he spoke out against the ordering of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media conglomerate, off the air during a pandemic in which information broadcasts save lives. Alongside his creative practice, he was a beloved educator until his death. He taught at UP’s College of Fine Arts, where he served as dean from 1998 to 2001, and was also the chairperson of the Committee on Arts and Humanities in the Commission on Higher Education.

He is survived by his wife, daughter, and son.

Suining Sim is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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