Lifted Veils

  • Start

    09 January 2014
  • End

    31 January 2014
  • Artist

    AnonymousAmbie Abaño

  • Venue

    Altro Mondo • Arte Contemporanea
    3rd Level Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center,
    Makati City
Lifted Veils

When Ambie Abaño does portraits, the faces are not mere replicas of the sitter or of the subject, but carriers of stories. The artist and her carving tools weave these “stories” to the way Abaño sees their faces. Then, she further integrates her own fascination for faces that do not merely reflect shallow beauty but allow the viewer to traverse the formulated contours. In Abaño’s works, personality takes several steps back to allow possible personas to emerge.

By calling her exhibit “Lifted Veils,” Abaño creates an interesting discussion on woman as subject or object of art and woman as a practitioner of the arts. To some, veils are a symbol of enclosure as ascribed by several cultures’ gender roles and hierarchies. To others, veils are a means of protection or a sign of both safety and humility. Abaño does not engage in cultural vis a vis theocratic debates in this exhibit, rather this is her way of dealing with intimacy and projection of the subject to be negotiated by the artist herself. In this exhibit, Abaño ‘lifts veils’ as a means to implement revelation of persona in her canvases, wood panels and paper.

In selecting her subjects, Abaño has sought the quirky and the interesting as opposed to the merely alluring. Shallow visages have no place in Abaño’s works, for the faces are turned into points of discussion; like a film still of a character from a movie about determination and will.

It is a staple in Western Art History lectures that women are more confined (some may even say “elevated on a pedestal,” which is still a confinement albeit raised) as subjects and objects to be gazed upon. Whereas one is hard pressed to recall credible, capable and substantive artists who happen to be female. Abaño’s latest exhibit is part of the process of rectifying such a patriarchal overbearing way in reductive rendering of women.

Abaño’s women in this exhibit are hardly reductive or crude simplifications.In these portraits, the women are not merely gazed upon. The subjects and sitters reveal their character in the way they compose themselves in the knowledge that they are going to be stared at. This gives them a sense of power, a sense of looking back, so to speak.

Abaño’s women show a range of emotions, and submissiveness is not one of them. Some of the portraits show determination, self-assuredness, nurturing, and direction. These are not merely filigreed beauties as pejorative decorations but women who are actively engaged in their own identities.

One installation piece in the exhibit shows Abaño printing on stretchable fabrics stuffed to create reliefs shaped into biomorphic forms as if forming pieces of a puzzle. We see faces of men in articulations of larceny, contempt and lechery as they “view” the women. The printed faces of women have a strong sense of determination to look on with resplendent pair of lips not to entice the said men but to calmly let those unwanted gazes slide off their shoulders.

One of the most poignant works in this exhibit is the installation piece that consists of the artist’s self-portrait set in discussion with the portrait of Käthe Kollwitz. It so happens thatAbaño idolizes the late 19th to early 20th Century German printmaker Kollwitz, known for her provocative prints of death and suffering. Kollwitz’s prints are explorations of empathy and wrenching sadness and not a shallow navel-gazing of emotional tumult. This installation artwork showcases the portraits as they are sheathed into a couple of seats as if the two artists have sat down and are having an exciting and defining conversation about their lives and their visions.

Abaño muses on how Kollwitz is a quiet woman who has managed to come up with a tremendous body of work that has touched and provoked viewers for generations. Such an emotional reaction to the powerful images is what Abaño aims to approximate.

Abaño currently teaches printmaking at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) College of Fine Arts. She is also a senior member of the Philippine Association of Printmakers. Her works have been exhibited abroad. She has been a recipient of grants from the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) and the Alliance Française de Manille Philippine Artist Residency Program (PARP), which has given Abaño the opportunity to go on extended visits to the art and culture capitals of New York and Paris. This allowed Abaño to be exposed to the printmaking practices in the contemporary milieu of these centers of the Western art world. Such opportunities have afforded Abaño a more expansive take on her chosen articulations in the visual arts.

As Abaño lifts veils in her latest exhibition, she asks us to look at her works and imagine the possibilities of looking at people beyond display-worthiness but as an articulation and exploration of actual depths of humanity.

Jose Santos P. Ardivilla
Department of Theory
College of Fine Arts
University of the Philippines Diliman