MaArteng Pinay



As we celebrate Women’s Month, allow me to honor some of the pioneering women in contemporary Philippine society starting with the arts.

While some may regard art as a mere indulgence, we have to remember that art in all its forms is actually one of the fundamentals in a society. The same holds true for Philippine art as forms of this have compelled Filipinos to think beyond what has been deemed as basic or simply necessary to survive, and instead, create avenues for the purposes of expression.

Filipino women in the arts have been hailed internationally as early as the late 1800s with the likes of Pelagia Mendoza known as the first female sculptor in the country and was the first female student at the Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura. Art enthusiasts also know of Anita Magsaysay-Ho, considered as one of the pioneering modernists in the Philippines. Although Ho studied at the University of the Philippines under two Filipino masters, Fernando Amorsolo and Fabian de la Rosa, her voice as a woman, was evident in her works and because of not being afraid to express this voice, she became known for her signature artistic look of genre scenes with women in angular figures.

And of course we have Nena Saguil considered as yet another pioneering female artist. Saguil contributed to feminism in the Philippines with her pieces, particularly the Filipina Lady Liberty in 1947. It was said to have been modelled after Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, but it’s interesting to note that Saguil’s masterpiece which features a bare-breasted Filipina holding a Philippine flag in her right hand and a large palm leaf, depicts how “gender is wrought by matrices of labour and sociality, it is also imbricated in the history of abstraction, as disclosure of a cosmic world." (Carlos Quijon, art historian).

And then we have Pacita Abad whose works bravely depicted the socio-political environment Filipino women have lived in. Her most prominent work is “The Filipina: A Racial Identity Crisis,” a large-scale trapunto. She even coined the term “trapunto,” for her unique technique of stitching and stuffing her canvases for a three-dimensional effect. Her ingenious technique of using other elements such as traditional Philippine cloth, shells, beads, and mirrors makes her another Filipina pioneer of multimedia visual arts. More importantly, Abad’s paintings have shown some of the most pressing issues Filipino women had to deal with such a patriarchy and racism in our very own soils.

With the list of our nation’s notable female artists, it is unfortunate that there are still very few awarded the recognition of National Artist. The scope and subject of art are limitless, but the lack of recognition for our Filipina artists can most possibly be a factor why up to this day, our contemporary artists continue to share the theme of feminism as shown in their works.

If society, even within the art community, has truly evolved to be truly equal in its regard for men and women, galleries should not even have to hold an exhibit specially to celebrate Women’s Month. But with a long history of patriarchy in the Philippines, this is a good start to showcase the unbridled talent of Pinay artists.

Magel Cadapan, the only child of the great late artist and feminist Inday Cadapan, thanked Sentro Artista for honoring her mother’s contribution in the art world.

Inday was a first prize Higante contest awardee in Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1985, Top 50 in Philip Morris Art Contest in 1980, and Foundation University awardee in 2003.

Atty. Lorna Patajo-Kapunan, vice chairperson of the CCP, expressed her appreciation to Sentro Artista’s creative director Marj Ruiz for providing a home to women visual artists, jewellery designers and musicians at their gallery in Quezon City.

“There is an artist in all of us,” Kapunan said after the ribbon cutting. “I am very thankful to Jay and wife Marj for hosting an event like this.”

Besides honoring the legacy of feminist and artist Inday Cadapan, Sentro Artista featured the works also of Lydia Velasco, Daisy Carlos, Michelline Syjuco, Maxine Syjuco, Fatima Baquiran, Melissa Yeung Yap, Tanya Gaisano Lee, Mylene Quito, Kahlila Baquiran, and Ayen Quias.

“This event is very exciting because I want to champion the creativity of Filipinas from different generations and we gathered a very eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional art styles,” Ruiz said.
“There are painters, sculptors, and there are singers as well,” she said. “It’s time for our Filipino women to show their creativity in the arts.”

So while for now, we only have a few female national artists, the emergence of young Filipinas in the art world is unstoppable. And in time, we can but hope that they can finally go beyond the feminist art movement which aspires to rewrite long held sociocultural perspectives through art, and express even the smallest things that bring them joy.