Humble chairs become artworks to promote mental health

Published July 25, 2022, 6:49 AM

by John Legaspi

Visual Arts Helping Hands Foundation and Art Lounge Manila launch ‘The Empty Chair Project Reprise’

It is an understatement to say that the pandemic has greatly affected everyone’s mental health. From the chaos it brought during its early months of spreading around the globe to the lives it took, COVID-19 has done so many troubles beyond what the eyes can see that it raised mental health awareness to another level. 

To spark conversations about it, the local arts community launched “The Empty Chair Project” in 2019 with the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Led by the Visual Arts Helping Hands Foundation, the initiative featured the works of Filipino artists, who used chairs as canvases for their craft. This time, the project has a new home with Art Lounge Manila, continuing its mission of bringing statements in support of mental health through art. 

Jonathan Dangue’s “Sikreto ni Marites”; Juanito Torres’ “The Healer”; Anton Del Castillo’s “Life is thickly sown with thorns”; Kristine Lim’s “Maylaya”; and Carlo Magno’s Blue Moon Rising”

“The Empty Chair Project Reprise” exhibit brings together a new roster of 58 artists transforming a humble chair into a masterpiece. This new list has a good mix of artists from the young to the veritable—all giving their full support once again to mental health and to creating a fund for the visual arts community members’ health needs. 

“During the lockdowns, artists and collectors were among the very first to rise up to help our frontliners through various online fundraisers,” exhibit curator Ricky Francisco says. “The usually solitary artists have come out of their shells to support other members of our community when the need arose. I think this is the essence of “The Empty Chair Project,” and this is our essence as Filipinos. We are always there to offer a helping hand to those in need, as we know deeply that when we are in need, others will do the same.”  

Featured in the exhibit are the works of artists Aileen Lanuza, Anna de Leon, Antipas Biboy Delotavo, Anton del Castillo, Carlo Magno, Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, Ciron Señeres, Daniel dela Cruz, Dino Gabito, Dominic Rubio, Erwin Leaño, Ferdinand Montemayor, Fil Delacruz, Francis Nacion, Gene Paul Martin, Guerrero “RG” Habulan, Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, Janos Delacruz, Jason Montinola, Jayson Cortez, Jef Cablog, Jia Santos-Estrella, Jik Villanueva, Jomike Tejido, Jonathan Dangue, Jose Tence Ruiz, Juan Alcazarezm, Juanito Torres, Kat Cuenca, Kim Hamilton Sulit, Kristine Lim, Leeroy New, Leo Abaya, Louie Cordero, Luis Lorenzana, Luis Santos, Lynyrd Paras, Marc Aran Reyes, Melissa Yeung Yap, Migs Villanueva, Nona Garcia, Ombok Villamor, Omi Reyes, Pepe Mendoza, Pete Jimenez, Rando Onia, Raul Isidro, Raul Lebajo, Reginald Yuson, Renz Baluyot, Riel Hilario, Rodel Tapaya, Roel Obemio, Romeo Lee, Soler Santos, Stanley Ruiz, Veronica Peralejo, Yasmin Sison-Ching, among others. It also celebrates the life of late artist who passed during the pandemic. 

“We restaged ‘The Empty Chair Project Reprise in recognition of the need to reconnect after the lockdowns. We lost two artists during that time, Riel Hilario and Leo Abaya, and their works are in the exhibition,” says Daniel dela Cruz, the director of the Visual Arts Helping Hands Foundation, Inc. “We would like to honor them by exhibiting their works along with other artists as the lockdowns and the pandemic were tough on everyone’s mental as well as physical health. This exhibition is a reminder of our need to look out for each other. This was the message of ‘The Empty Chair Project’ in 2019.  And it rings truer now.”

“Art Lounge Manila has been a part of various fundraisers to support our health workers during the lockdowns. And we are honored to be part of this exhibition which focuses primarily on artists and members of our own community,” the pandemic taught us that only by working together can we truly keep each other healthy,” adds Suzzaine Tiausas, the director of the gallery. “We are happy in the inclusion of our artists among ‘The Empty Chair Project,’ which is primarily a project of the Visual Arts Helping Hands Foundation, as the pandemic taught us that only by working together can we truly keep each other healthy.”

“The Empty Chair Project Reprise” runs until July 30, at The Art Lounge Manila at The Podium in Ortigas Center. 

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