History and Memory: The Negrense Woman through the Looking Glass
- 17 April 2021
The daily grind slowed to a complete halt in 2020. Seemingly overnight, all that was routine and mundane ceased to exist. Suddenly, everyone was confined to their homes, their movement restricted— all interactions with anyone outside of the household had to happen at least six feet apart.
This forced everyone into uncharted territory— one that held more similarities to a dystopian novel than the life we knew BC (before corona). This was the beginning of the new normal.
For these eight Negrense women, it was art that helped them make sense of reality— glaring and unpleasant as it was in the early months of quarantine. Art served as their safe harbour during a time of tremendous uncertainty. Each of the artists’ works represent moments of introspection, discovery, and tales of their homeland, serving as a visual chapter in their quarantine story.
Read on to find out more about the artists and their works for the ongoing Salcedo Private View exhibition, Istorya Namon Subong (Our Stories Now).
It started with a Facebook group— a small online community that quickly expanded to include several thousand members, all of whom were locals interested in what the group had to offer: bartering. That’s right, bartering— as in the exchange of goods or services for other goods or services that were of similar value.
The Negrense people, who have long valued the importance of their grassroots community, found a way to look out for one another even with the physical restrictions of social distancing.
Through the group, one could easily find a new home for the things that no longer sparked joy while another could search for virtually anything they could possibly want or need— from oatmeal and Spam (which was the most in-demand canned good) to books and plants. “It was a renaissance of bartering at the most unlikely time,” Moreen Austria shares. It was this peculiar phenomenon and the sense of community that gave her hope during quarantine.
Katarina Estrada has been Manila-based for the past decade, but it’s still Bacolod that she considers home.
In the year when the journey back home was impossible, she clung on to childhood memories to keep her warm. In the process, she found that her introspection led her to likening her lockdown journey to the hearty soup she grew up having in the province, her lola’s famous Las-wa.
“Las-wa,” she explains, “was a vegetable broth soup that we would have nearly everyday at my lola’s house. It remains to be my ultimate comfort food.” Much like the preparation process of the dish, she imagines herself going through the same motions of discovery, harvest, and rebirth— in the end, emerging as a new version of herself which she discovered during lockdown.
Karina Broce Gonzaga
“What do I really need in my life?” This was the question that plagued Karina Broce Gonzaga at the beginning of lockdown, and it’s one that she has since continually reexamined over and over again.
At the height of the new normal, she reminisced upon simpler times— back to her childhood spent in her lola’s lush home garden. She felt that it was the simplicity of being close to nature that she was yearning for in quarantine. Eventually, it was the same flora and fauna from her youth that served as the inspiration for her work for ‘Istorya Namon Subong (Our Stories Now)’, which makes use of upcycled cloth materials.
Elwah Gonzales revisited the tales and stories of Visayan mythology in the midst of lockdown. It was there, in the narratives of the mythical babaylans and of Dalikmata, the goddess of health in ancient Visayan society, that she found the muses for her works of art.
She held up the folklore of her culture as a mirror to modern reality, creating fantastical mixed media paintings in the process.
Erika Mayo’s deep crimson canvases show harrowing vignettes of the daily realities faced by political activists.
“Art isn’t just about the aesthetics,” she states. During lockdown, the community witnessed a further spike in human rights violations, particularly against women. In response, she painted poignant imagery. One of her artworks for ‘Istorya Namon Subong (Our Stories Now)’, features an anonymous woman with bright red lips, the title of this piece poses the chilling question— Sino Dasun? (Who’s Next?)
Megumi Miura’s very first memory of Negros was of first seeing miles and miles of sugarcane through the car window. It was this striking visual that led to her homage to the sacadas (migrant sugarcane workers).
Her sculptures capture a woman’s many roles in modern society— from that of a provider, a caregiver, and the light of the household. The irony that Miura’s works brings to the fore is that despite the global pandemic, none of these roles have changed. Thesacadas still work the fields to help provide for their families, returning home to care for their children. Their colorfully printed head wraps now serve the dual purpose of protecting them from the sun and the virus. One sculpture, a woman holding her newborn child, remains close to her heart— as she, too, spent much of the lockdown caring for her children.
During the lockdown, Angela Silva dove head first into research, digging up old documents, passports, and photographs in an attempt to stitch together the story of one phenomenal woman— Elena, her mother.
The entire collection, titled All About Her, highlights Elena’s life through the eyes of her daughter as honestly, and vulnerably, as possible. This work of art is a strong testament to the ever-complex and unbreakable tether that binds mother and child together. “She was a singular woman…complicated as she was, she lived her life to the fullest,” Silva shares about her mother and muse.
For Josephine Turalba, mahjong was a game played to pass the time on languid afternoons during her summers spent in Negros. The conversations that ensued on the mahjong table were just about anything under the sun! This memory from her childhood, partially fueled by her own mother’s memoirs, spurred her to create her own set of mahjong tiles that detail the history of Sugarlandia as well as the legacy of her own family.
Each mahjong tile features a snippet from Negrense history, culture, and tradition— from the masks of the annual Masskara Festival to the “sticks” of sugarcane from the fields. The story unfolds as the game is played.
‘Istorya Namon Subong (Our Stories Now),’ curated by Gina O. Jocson, runs both as a limited in-person viewing and online exhibition from Friday, 16 April 2021 and runs up to Saturday, 8 May 2021, and forms part of the public programme of Salcedo Private View for Art Fair Philippines 2021. Click here to tour the online gallery.