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Davao and the feminine
Source: Inquirer
Author: Ricardo M. De Ungria
Date: 2000-09-04
RECENTLY opened, and not to be missed, at the Gallery M of

the Barcelo Royal Mandaya Hotel, Davao City is an apt exhibit

to coincide with the Kadayawan festivities. Titled "Seven

Women: Windows of Davao," the group show celebrates

womanhood and nature in 58 works by seven Davao women

artists. It is to the point that there are only few images of men in

the entire exhibit, and that, directly or by suggestion, wherever

an image of a woman may be, there the lush life of nature could

also be found. These women are intently looking at themselves

and electing affinities with the natural world. They have

transcended their men and won't make a case of it. Which is all

for the good, since they can let their art speak for themselves.

An artist of international stature, Anna Fer opts here for smaller

works in watercolor. In a number of attractive pieces that seem

to be parts of a series, Fer links woman with nature in no

uncertain terms. Using the same figure of a naked woman as

motif, Fer evolves a number of design variations by

superimposing on it images of a parrot, stylized flowers and

leaves, or a spiral of long, gray hair to depict the

inextinguishable life pulsating in and emanating from the

maternal womb-woman as seed of life, cradle of wildlife, and

repository of deaths and memories. The message is there, but

Fer masters it by the sheer power of her colors and images.

On the other hand, no human images figure in the works of Josie

Tionko and Rachel Holazo, two artists with formal training in art

like Fer. Tionko paints exquisite oil portraits of exotic flowers,

taking care to express the personality, or character, of each

without sacrificing the sense of composition that is one of her

strengths. She also has a vivid sense of color, which she

displays in two special works, "Calathea Tobacco" and

"Heliconia Episcopalis" where she explores the possibilities of

floral forms as pure design and pattern of colors.

Holazo's pastel landscapes feature sensuous mountains, cloud

formations and wind-blown orchids. In "Open Windows-And

Stretch My Wings," there is only a woven blanket unfurling like

a veritable Nike and yielding to the three fateful mountains and

sea of clouds before it, intensifying the immensity of space

around it. Human presence is only implied in her works here,

considering the empyrean perch of the artistic eye. One other

curious work is "Where Once Only Deserts Were" where a

colorful woven blanket appears to have completely wrapped the

mountains and the entire lay of the land at their feet. The work

struck me as an inspired solution to some artistic problem I still

have to figure out.

Painting with a vengeance

An award-winning biographer of the late National Artist

Victorio Edades, Lydia Rivera Ingle appears to have turned to

painting with a vengeance this year. Eight of her 11 works are

dated this year, and it's still only August. Though her works

divide into the realistic and the mythic/symbolic, they are all

suffused with the warm and muted blues and greens that seem

to bespeak her tranquil moments in her farms. Her subjects,

mostly women, are portraits of calmness and composure,

unruffled by the swirl of presence around her (as in "Peace"), or

the nearness of temptation ("Children of Eve"), or by the light

and heat of the sun against which one has armed herself with an

umbrella and a fan ("Street Vendor"). In Ingle's works, nature is

pervasive, whether in the form of flowers, trees, or its bounties

of fruits. In "Garden Lesson," the flowers in the bower above

the two women even match the jeweled earring and necklace

worn by one of them.

Tita Lacambra Ayala is a poet and fictionist who paints and is

the venerable figure behind the Road Map Series of

publications that introduced new writers and artists to the

public. Ayala, who signs her name as Tala, is a relentless

experimenter whose skill "was honed on banana craft paper and

chipboard packing cases." Her adventurous spirit seems to

have found a temporary home in the mixed-media genre. Hers is

a linear art based on drawing where one senses spontaneity and

improvisation and, at the same time, an almost deliberate attempt

not to prettify the subject. In works like "Emil's Cat" and

"Memories of Peace and Quiet," the sheer intuitiveness of the

drawn line, quirky as it may be, achieves a lyricism that lends

charm to the naf quality found in most of her works.

Literary imagination

Fictionist Margarita Marfori Cleto is represented by two large oil

paintings placed facing each other from opposite ends of the

gallery hallway. Titled simply "Myth I" and "Myth II," the

works exemplify the literary quality of her imagination. Cleto

harks back to the Egyptian sky goddess Nut whose pose

(arching her elongated body to touch the earth with her fingers

and toes) is imitated by the main figure in one painting and

alluded to by another in the other "myth." The layered earth in

both works, however, does not show signs of fertility, only

deaths and buried histories. Whatever this may mean, what

comes out strongly from both myths is a woman's great

yearning to touch, to encompass, and be completed.

Jinky Morales debuts here as visual artist, having recently put

out a collection of verses, "A Time to Live and A Time to

Write," in the Road Map series. Like Ingle, her palette's colors

are subdued, and she appears to be developing an inclination

toward genre scenes, as in "I Grew Up in my Father's

House"-although she has also started to explore possibilities of

abstraction and design in "Keeping the Peace" and "A Bird

Cage." Quite an interesting crossroads for her to be in. For all

practical purposes, Morales seems ready to work on bigger

canvasses and bigger themes.

No flag is waved in this exhibit, except maybe the green one,

which could be a happy coincidence after all. And in this regard,

simplicity and variety highlight the vegetal dynamism exuded by

the works. The mood evoked is one of celebration, but of a

quieter, more intimate and mature ovation. One can attribute this

to the gentle nature of the artists here, or to their gentler bucolic

surroundings still unscarred by the conflict happening

elsewhere in the island. Still, in this house of art with seven

windows, we are allowed a peek into seven rooms each with a

view. Whether these artists are aware of it or not, their bonding

for this show marks a significant contribution to an evolving

Davao aesthetic.

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