Representing empowered women through art

(From left) SM Supermalls’ president Steven Tan, Singapore Ambassador Constance See, British Ambassador Laure Beaufils, US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson, SM Hotels and Conventions Corporation president Elizabeth Sy, ZCME president Jeannie Abaya, and BDO Private Bank president Albert Yeo signed the ‘Sining Filipina’ canvas to symbolize their support for Filipina artistry and officially mark the opening of the exhibition.

Just like the powerful images and messages that the winning artworks at the recently concluded Sining Filipina art competition conveyed, the artists themselves have compelling personal stories to tell.

Maria Gemma San Jose, who won first place in the non-figurative category for her obra, titled Layers of Experience, almost gave up on joining as she was already committed to taking care of her ailing mother. But her artist-friends from Pila town in Laguna prodded her to persevere until she completed her painting in less than a month.

“I thought I would not make it — but I did!” she told DAILY TRIBUNE in an interview following the awarding ceremony held at SM Aura in Taguig City.  “Winning is just a bonus. I just wanted to participate in the first-ever national competition for women artists.”

San Jose won the cash prize of P250,000 to go along with the Sining Filipina trophy made of mango and narra wood, which is a “creative representation of everything that it means to be a woman.” Indeed, the competition was jointly organized by SM Supermalls, BDO Unibank, Inc. and the Zonta Club of Makati and Environs in celebration of the National Women’s Month.

San Jose used a barbecue stick as a brush to paint what looks like dots into an artwork that represents her views on women empowerment. She explained, “A lot of people who saw the artwork told me they see a mother and child, but it was unintentional. The intention was to show a woman who is bruised. Ibig sabihin, kahit na sugatan ka, may magagawa ka. Hindi ’yung pag nasugatan ka, dadapa ka na lang (Meaning, even if a woman is wounded, she can still do something. It’s not that when you get wounded, you just stumble down).”

“It’s actually the role of women in society and how a woman is empowered through life experiences,” she added. “Hindi naman superwoman ang empowered woman. She is the ordinary woman who knows how to manage her life. It’s a woman who is bruised and teaches the young, inspires others and gives voice to the voiceless.”

As for her choice of the barbecue stick of a painting material, she said, “That is my voice, and I enjoy the slow process. Sobrang fast-paced na ang ating society ngayon (now), pero (but) when you do it on your own pace, na ang kasama mo lang ay ’yung pintura at (with just the paint and) barbecue stick, parang ang dami mong oras sa sarili mo na (it’s like having a lot of time for yourself that) you get introspection.

“Parang nai-improve mo ang sarili mo dahil ang dami mong tanong na ikaw rin ang sumasagot habang ginagawa mo ’yung artwork (It’s like improving yourself with the questions you ask yourself that you also answer). And at the same time, ’yung (the) final output no’n will be part of ’yung kung ano ang magiging (what will be the) interpretation ng (of the) spectator.”

San Jose confessed to being a late bloomer as a visual artist, having been primarily a writer until hitting her mid-life. In 2017, she helped a group of artists in the Lopez town of Quezon organize an exhibit held at the National Commission for the Culture and Arts’ gallery in Intramuros, Manila.

From that exhibit, she somehow got involved in an activity of the artists from Laguna that had her adding color to one of the artworks. After doing her part, that artwork was included in an exhibit also held at the NCCA’s gallery. One day, she just “played around” with the spare paint left from the activity, and found mixing colors and making art quite enjoyable.

“Nagsimula na doon (It started there),” the self-taught artist said of her love affair with painting, specifically the type that doesn’t represent actual or natural objects or realities. “Non-figurative talaga ang gusto ko (is what I really like) because I get pressured with images. Feeling ko, kailangan napakaganda kasi napakaraming magagaling na artists (I feel the need to make the images to come out beautifully because there are so many great artists).

Family effort

On the other hand, Luckyshia Jenielou Canonigo is a 21-year-old college student from Cebu Technological University in Cebu City who started joining poster-making contests in high school and eventually found the courage to participate in art competitions. Sining Filipina is her first national competition, and she nearly backed out from it.

“Nagda-dalawang isip din akong sumali (I had second thoughts),” she admitted in a separate interview also at the awarding ceremony. “May expenses kasi kung kukunin na ang artwork, ’tapos baka finalist ka lang pala.” Good thing she overcame her doubts to complete Gabay na Ilaw in under a month because she ended up in second place in the figurative category. She got a Sining Filipina trophy, cash prize and trip to Manila to personally collect her rewards.

“First time ko po sa Manila,” she sheepishly said. “Kasama si Papa pumunta dito (I came with my father).” She credited her talent in the visual arts to the head of her family. Mahilig po siyang mag-drawing… No’ng nagbubuntis pa si Mama, nagpe-paint si Papa sa wall po para sa akin ng cartoons (He’s fond of drawing. When my mother was pregnant with me, my father drew cartoons on the wall for me).”

In Canonigo’s winning artwork, she had her own mother as the model breastfeeding a baby, who happens to be the artist’s baby brother. She then asked her neighbors to sit in for the two kids in the tableau, as her younger sister acted up, or in her own words, “nag-inarte.” She said she also has an 18-year-old brother.

As for the figures in the background of her painting, she said those were patterned after the Barbie dolls that she loved playing with in her childhood. She also pointed out, “May tagline kasi na Barbie can be anything. It represents women. Mga dolls, may iba’t-ibang occupations (The Barbie movie has the tagline, she can do everything Dolls with different occupations).”