Portrait of the Filipina as an Artist: The Women of ManilArt 2018
September 14, 2018
Women who have distinguished themselves in the visual arts will be among the roster of artists whose works are among the ManilArt exhibit from October 17 to 21 at the SMX Aura
When we talk about great Filipino visual artists, those who come to mind are usually the likes of Amorsolo, and on a more contemporary note, BenCab. Rightly so as they are masters and pioneers of their craft enough to have earned the title of National Artist. Being conferred as a National Artist is the highest honor anybody can attain in their artistic field. It is given on the recommendation of both the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and awarded by no less than the President of the Philippines.
Amorsolo’s works feature women, soft-faced and demure, plowing fields and picking mangoes in his unmistakable style. BenCab’s “Sabel” is the image of a woman made pliable—in his series and variations, her differing degrees of abstraction thrum with whatever energy the artist imbues upon her.
There is no argument on the immense talent of the roster of national artists, but browsing through the list, it’s clear that there’s yet to be a woman national artist in the field of visual arts. Women have been talked about in the context of great Filipino artists, albeit as their subjects, already viewed through the male gaze, projected upon, and spoken for. Filipina artists with a fellow artist for a spouse are often addressed as somebody’s wife even if they are artists in their own right.
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Callado and Fiesta
The lack of female representation and recognition in the local art landscape does not mean there is a shortage of notable Filipina women artists, starting with the maestra herself. Araceli Dans (b. 1929) was mentored by National Artists Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino, but set out to make a name for herself in still life. Dans went on to become a prolific painter and educator in her own right. She is best known for her masterful depictions of calado embroidery and floral paintings in different media: oil, watercolor, acrylic and pastel.
Dans has garnered a great deal of awards throughout the span of her career, including the CCP’s Centennial Awards, Citizen’s Award for Television, and the Mariang Maya Award. She has also founded the Philippine Art Educators Association (PAEA) with Brenda Fajardo. After well over 100 group and solo exhibitions, both here and abroad, the life and works of Dans have been commemorated in a coffee table book and retrospective exhibit in the Ayala Museum.
Another well regarded Filipina artist of our time is Norma Belleza (b. 1939). Recognized and awarded in galleries and auctions both locally and internationally, Belleza takes snapshots of Philippine culture—fiesta-goers, market vendors, barangay picnics—to the global mainstage. She deserves recognition not only for her vibrant acrylic and oil paintings depicting local scenes, but also for her unabashed and distinctive portrayal of the Filipina as she is. She is neither white-washed nor glamorous, but through her subjects, she is able to portray the Filipina as the strong, hardworking and compassionate woman she is.
Tarot Cards and Angular Women
In the realm of printmaking, Brenda Fajardo (b. 1940) is a multi-awarded visual artist and educator who brings local folk culture to the international forefront. Her resume includes the Thirteen Artists Award and the Centennial Award for the Arts by the CCP. Fajardo has exhibited both locally and internationally, notably in Singapore, Cuba, Brisbane, and Paris. Her works imbibe Philippine history and culture, sociopolitical concerns, and women’s issues, with some of the most well-known works being part of her Tarot Card Series. She is a pioneer of the craft of Philippine printmaking, as well as a founder of artistic organizations such as the Baglan Community Cultural Initiatives, Philippine Educational Theater Association and the aforementioned PAEA.
Many depictions of women in art have them subdued, from their soft features to their submissive body language or adherence to traditional roles. Lydia Velasco (b. 1942) turns that on its head: here is the Filipina reimagined; her signature features are angular and strong, but she is also poised and otherworldly. She has held multiple exhibitions, one being a 25-year retrospective of her works held in 2017. She has also had a book written about her entitled Allure by Jack Teotico, the Managing Director of Galerie Joaquin.
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Terracotta and Whimsy
You may have seen the work of Julie Lluch (b. 1946) without realizing it; she is the commissioned sculptor who did the monuments of Lacson, Aquino, Javier and Plaridel along Roxas Boulevard, of Romulo on UN Avenue, Chief Justices Abad-Santos and Arellano on Padre Faura Street, and Quezon in his eponymous province. Lluch is a multi-awarded clay sculptor who has exhibited locally, as well as around Asia and in Brisbane. She is also a staunch advocate of women’s rights, having founded the feminist group Kalayaan with other artists and academics in 1983, as well as Kasibulan, an organization of women visual artists in 1990. Her medium of choice is terracotta, which takes upon new life as she molds it. She also has three talented daughters in different artistic fields: Sari Dalena, Aba Dalena, and Kiri Dalena.
It’s worth noting that these established names in Philippine art are either still active to this day, have children who have made their own names in the art world, or both. But the local art scene is continually being graced by up-and-coming contemporary artists.
You could spot this artist’s works from a mile away—quite literally, as the works of Plet Bolipata (b. 1962) are soaring, whimsical installations that beckon viewers to engage with the art. Sit inside the animal sculptures, play with the piano, and take a rest on the mosaic bathtub chair. Bolipata’s pieces have been auctioned in prestigious places such as Leon Gallery and UNICEF’s Auction for Action, in art shows and galleries, and in public for everyone to enjoy—such as her “ImagiNATION” pieces, animals that have made their way from her home in Zambales, to BGC, finally settling in Ateneo de Manila University.
Dioramas and Distortions
Geraldine Javier (b. 1970) is one of the younger contemporary artists in the Philippine scene, but this has not prevented her from excellence: she has been awarded with the Thirteen Artists Award by the CCP, and has exhibited both locally and internationally—particularly, in Singapore, Korea and the Czech Republic.
Her work uses a wide range of materials and skills, from traditional painting, to embroidery, to diorama. Her 2010 painting, Ella Amo’Apasionadamente Y Fue Correspondida (“For she loved fiercely, and she is well-loved”) fetched HK $1,460,000 (or around PHP 8.8M) at a Hong Kong auction. The work featured an oil painting of Frida Kahlo, with picture frames holding both embroidered and actual preserved butterflies.
There is something cathartic about the grit and distortion of Isobel Francisco’s style; her subjects and colors quake with unspoken emotional intensity. She is best known for her oil paintings and graphite drawings.
Since her debut group exhibition in December 2011, she is quickly making a name for herself in the local and international art scene: she has been in numerous group and pair exhibitions, including ones in Hong Kong in China, even obtaining residency at Vermont Studio Center in the USA. She is also a finalist in the Art Association of the Philippines’s 68th Art Competition held in 2015 under the painting category.
The talent of the Filipina does not end with this list; there are a multitude of artists yet unseen. ManilArt 2018 will be showcasing a good number of Filipina artists and their creative expressions in various media, including a solo show by Araceli Dans.