A tapestry portraying a conflict among a family in Iloilo has emerged as the grand prize winner of the 25th Philippine Art Awards.
Melvin Guirhem’s fabric art Failed Reconciliation may have been a personal story of pain, but mirrors the pain of many Filipino families.
“It’s a family portrait and was not necessarily created [to win an award]. It was our life. It is our life,” Melvin tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle in a phone interview after the Dec. 18 virtual awarding ceremony.
What may be a colorful and vibrant collage of sewn fabric is the paradox of inter-personal relationships among family members in adulthood during the Christmas season. It weaves between the physical and emotional connections or the lack of it between Melvin, his parents, his brothers, and sister.
“If you look at it, we are a family. But we are detached. We are cold to each other. There was no happiness. There was no joy,” says the 40-year-old artist who hails from Iloilo City, but currently lives in the neighboring town of Oton.
Melvin is seen in the work as carrying on his shoulder scaffolds, part of it that resembles a cross.
“It symbolizes a house that is about to fall apart. But I am trying to hold it together that it will not be totally destroyed,” Melvin says.
Melvin started working on his fabric art in 2019 as a means of easing the burden he has felt over the years instead of trying to hide it.
“I was hesitant, but it was hindering me. As an artist, I wasn’t being transparent to myself. I realized I wasn’t being realistic to what I was portraying,” Melvin recalls. “I needed to express it so I can move on.”
Another chance to reconcile
While Melvin’s fabric art connotes the failure of reconciliation, the winning artwork itself has transformed as an avenue for other family members to give it another try.
“Our situation is getting better now. There have been realizations that we may be brothers and sister, but we should understand and accept each other despite our differences in beliefs and our outlooks in life,” Melvin shares.
For Melvin, the work is a constant reminder what he needs to sustain being a husband and a father himself—that he should have a more open mind to understand one another.
“If there are misunderstandings, it should be patched up as soonest possible to prevent it from getting worse. By the end of the day, it is your family who will be there no matter what,” Melvin emphasizes.
Validation of new art medium
For Melvin, the award given by the Promoting Advocacy for the Arts Foundation Inc. (PAAFI) validates he made the right decision in exploring a new art medium.
“I was not sure of fabric art, but I submitted it to the Philippine Art Awards to see how far fabric art would go,” Melvin says.
A self-taught artist, Melvin was initially more adept in painting for almost 20 years. He started exploring the use of textiles and fabrics by 2016.
“It was only [in 2019] that I took fabric art seriously and I was confident enough,” Melvin adds.
Melvin’s grand prize win at the Philippine Art Awards 2020 is a notch higher than having been a finalist in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Over the years, Melvin has had several solo art shows as well as his art works having been exhibited both in Metro Manila and abroad.
Melvin is a co-founding member of Baysulangpu (an anagram for the Hiligaynon word of pula nga subay or red ant) Society. Formed in 2002, the group is still active in both the city and province of Iloilo.
2 Ilonggo finalists
Aside from Melvin, two other Ilonggos are finalists of the Philippine Art Awards 2020.
Jason Delgado and Noel Elicana are two of the five Visayan finalists.
Delgado’s painting Baptism features a pillow with a cross that symbolizes faith and the knife that symbolizes struggle. In totality, the work speaks of overcoming life’s challenges.
Elicana’s painting Engrave Yesterday’s Silence features a knife, a white dress and a tiny dress for a baby girl. It is symbolic of a painful childhood after in losing two people in his family and what transpired after. It also speaks of hope and moving on while acknowledging a painful past by tucking it away in one’s collective memory.
Both architecture graduates of Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT), Delgado and Elicana have mounted separate solo shows this year while rounding up the year with a group show under their group Sigahum.