The Miriam College (MC) Mother Mary Jospeh Hall (MMJ Hall) is the home of the Gallery of Women’s Art (GAWA), the first gallery in the Philippines that is dedicated to women visual artists. Opened in 2001, the GAWA’s collection features paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, and drawings of prominent modernist and contemporary women artists. At the lobby of the MMJ Hall, there is already an impressive display of the works of Araceli Limcaco Dans, Phyllis Zaballero, Ivi Avellana-Cosio, Dina Susan Fetalvero-Roces, and Margarita Lim. Inside the gallery, there are more works to inspire the students of Miriam College to express themselves through art.
Two of the prized pieces of the GAWA collection are the paintings of Anita Magsaysay-Ho, one of the first Philippine modernist paintings. Magsaysay-Ho’s “Peanut Vendors” shows her characteristic working women, given a delicate and dignified view despite the hardiness of their jobs. The second piece is the undated “Ang Pamilya” (The Family), a rubber-cut print showing a family enjoying a quiet moment together at the end of the day, while the father has a sip of tuba (sugar cane wine) to ease his muscles after a whole day in the fields.
Anita Corpus Magsaysay-Ho (1914-2012) is a figurative painter, who is considered as one of the pioneers of Philippine Modern Art. Magsaysay-Ho paintings are known for her stylized renderings of rural women in daily scenes, often with local floral as their backdrop.Magsaysay-Ho took her formal studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), where she learned the classical styles under Fabian de la Rosa, Vicente Rivera y, and the Amorsolo brothers. However, her tutelage under Victorio Edades and Enrique Ruiz, in Edades’ School of Design, influences Magsaysay to explore modernist techniques. This would prompt Magsaysay to take further studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and the Art Students League in NewYork, USA, where she took more courses in art-making. In New York, she met Robert Ho, a Hong Kong national, whom she would later marry. During the 1940s, Anita and her husband would live in Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan, depending on her husband’s work. Throughout her career, Magsaysay-Ho’s works has gone through several phases, from expressionism, to calligraphic inspired painting, and to her soft toned paintings of her latter days; all the while still exploring her idealize native woman. Until her final days, Magsaysay-Ho was continually painting her visions of the Filipina, inspiring fellow artists for generations.
Milagros Delgado Enage’s watercolor “Azotea” is an idyllic rendition of a woman in folk clothing carrying a basket of fruit, while promenading atop the terraced roof (azotea), found in many ancestral homes of the wealthy. The painting looks back romantically at life during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines (1565-1898), with the naïve style of painting enforcing that idealistic view of life of those times.
Milagros Delgado-Enage (born 1920) is a painter, from the renowned business clan of the Delgaado family. Delgado-Enage never took any formal art studies, and had graduated from the College of the Holy Spirit, in Manila. Her family was noted as art patrons, and she and her husband opened the Manila Hilton Art Center. Exhibiting many of the works of classical and modernist masters, Delgado-Enage regularly interacted with the artists. And in 1962, she was invited to participate in a printmaking workshop, under Manuel Rodriguez, Sr. This experience would spur her shift from art patron to artist, focusing mostly on watercolors of still life, which she continues up to her nineties.
Another stalwart of the early Philippine modernist movement is Nena Saguil, with her pen and ink “Circular Patters in an Upright Oval Form in Silver and Gray Motif”. Saguil was one of the few full abstractionist artists of that time, and this works shows here fascination with form and patterns, which are often inspired by the natural world.
Simplicia “Nena” L. Saguil (1924-1994) was born in Manila, and she was a part of the second wave of Philippine modernists, also known as the Neo Realists. Originally painting in an impressionistic style, Saguil soon moved to her distinct abstract works of meditative circles in patterns. In 1974 she was awarded the Outstanding Overseas Filipinos, and in 2006 she was bestowed (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Merit.
Virginia Ty-Navarro’s painting of “Mag-Ina” (Mother and Child) is a break away from the artist’s typical expressionist surreal imagery, and it seems to be a more traditional homage to the Filipina mother, with a harvest of the Saba (Musa acuminata × Musa balbisiana) behind them. However looking closer at the work, Ty-Navarro’s distortive style appears through the grossly enlarged hands of both the mother and her child, making the view wonder if they are looking at naïve art or are being played on by the artist.
Virginia Ty-Navarro (1924-1996) is a sculptor and painter, who studied fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas. Ty-Navarro is most known for her monumental “Our Lady Queen of Peace” at the EDSA Shrine. She was married to the 1999 National Artist Jeremias “Jerry” Elizalde Navarro (1924-1999).
Charito Bitanga’s abstract painting of “Takipsilim” (Nightfall) features her trademark abstract expressionist style; in which captures the mood of an experience in forms and colors, and not what the artist sees. In this work, Bitanga shows a horizon at night fall, where the lights of a city reflect on a lake.
Rosario “Charito” de Lara Bitanga-Peralta (born 1934) is a pioneering modernist painter and arts educator, who originally hailed from Laoag, Province of Ilocos. Bitanga first finished law at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), when she decided to pursue a career in fine arts in the same university, and continue her master’s degree at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, USA. Bitanga’s paintings are a crossbreed between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, and draws strong inspiration from the natural world. Very active in the Visual Arts community, Bitanga has been an officer of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), the Pontiac Society of Artists and Bloomfield Art Association in Michigan, the Christian Art Society of the Philippines, the Partuat Iloko Group of the Philippines of the National Museum, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Committee of Visual Arts. Being a stalwart in the Philippine Art scene, Bitanga would nurture the next generation of artists by teaching and eventually becoming the dean of the Fine Arts Department of the Philippine Women’s University (PWU). Although presently retired, Bitanga continues to paint, and even promote Filipina artists to this day.
Brenda Fajardo’s five paneled “Pilipina ng Mapagmahal” (The Loving Filipina) showcases the artist’s style of expressive illustration that used a “Filipinized” tarot cards as a commentary on Philippine culture and social issues. Here, Fajardo has a Filipino family as the central image, and discusses the issue of motherhood. The central theme is enforced by her symbolical use of the tarot, with “Magkasuto “The Lovers) and “Taong Bingit” (The Hanged Man) at the left side, and “Araw” (The Sun) and “Katarungan’ (Justice) at the right side.
Brenda Villanueva Fajardo (born 1940) originally did not plan a career in the arts, as she had graduated with a degree in agriculture for the U.P. Los Baños campus in 1959. However, her thrust into the art world was pushed when she took her master’s degree in art education at the University of Wisconsin in 1967. Fajardo started teaching art at the Ateneo de Manila and the College of Holy Spirit, while she was experimenting in her painting and printmaking. Soon she developed her Tarot themed paintings, which she is most known for. In the 1970s, Fajardo joined the Philippine Education Theater Association (PETA), and work both on stage and backstage as a set and costume designer. She completed her doctorate in Art Studies at the U.P. Diliman campus in 1997, and soon became one of the faculty. She also is noted for being one of the co-founders of the Philippine Art Educators Association (PAEA), Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan (KASIBULAN), the Baglan Art and Culture Initiatives for Community Development (BAGLAN), and the Dalubhasaan sa Sining at Kultura (DESK). Throughout her career, Fajardo has won many awards with the most notable as the Thirteen Artists Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1992, the Gawad Chancellor for Best Visual Art Creation by the U.P. in 1996, Philippines’ One Hundred Culture Heroes by the CCP in 1998.
Phyllis Zaballero’s ephemeral “Pas de Deux Green” presents the artist’s abstract expressionist style, where she imagines the lines and forms of two dancers in motion.
Phyllis Panganiban- del Rosario Zaballero (1942) first studied French language and literature from the Universite de Geneve in Switzerland and from the Universidad de Barcelona, then she graduated with a degree in economics in 1964, only to continue her education at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts in 1978. As an art educator and painter, Zaballero has exhibited locally and internationally, and has received numerous grants from prestigious institutions such as the Goethe Institute, the British Council, and the French Cultural Ministry. In 1979, Zaballero was given the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists Award.
Paz Abad Santos’ tapestry entitled “Parokon: Rules and Forms of Prayer” draws inspiration from the culture of the Maranao people, in the island of Mindanao. Abad-Santos use of the curvilinear floral forms draw directly to the floral carving and weaving style of the Maranao called Okkir. The overall composition also is taken from the Da-ir woven panels that are used to decorate the Manarao home.
Paz “Ching” Singson Abad-Santos (born 1943) is a painter and mixed media artist, whose experiments of fabrics and indigenous materials create abstract tapestries like works that are commentaries on Philippine cultural issues. As a young girl, Singson Abad-Santos exhibited a knack for the arts, but did not pursue her interests until a latter point in life. With her children grown up after 18 years of marriage, Abad-Santos decided to enroll at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Fine Arts, where she would graduate as magna cum laude, in 1981. Her experiences of traveling around the country influenced her art, especially the T’nalak woven abaca cloth of the T’boli people was one of her first inspirations for her earlier exhibitions. Soon Abad-Santos was experimenting on painted burlap mixed with other indigenous materials drew critical review, and open more avenues to exhibit locally and internationally. In 1992, Abad-Santos was honored as one of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists Award.
Leonore R.S. Lim’s “Bougainvillea II” is a collagraph print of the leaves, petals and branches of an actual bougainvillea plant. R.S. Lim applied ink on a dried bougainvillea branch and placed a damp sheet of paper on top, and ran it through a printing press. The result is a haunting impression of the shapes and textures of the plant.
Leonore Orosa Raquel-Santos Lim (born 1945) is a painter and printmaker from Manila, and now operates in New York City, USA. R.S. Lim’s first lessons in the art started in the College of the Holy Spirit in Manila, when she was given free lessons, after class, by one of the sisters in the school. After that, she would enroll in the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA), where she would also delve into theater, as part of the UP Student Catholic Action Drama committee. Right after graduating, R.S. would first work as an art teacher at the International School Manila and Assumption Convent, and became a member and serve as the president of the Philippine Art Educators Association (PAEA). In 1975, R.S Lim and her family migrated to Canada, where she would teach at the Place des Arts, while taking a certificate course in early-childhood education at the Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia (BC). After graduating, R.S. Lim would help found the Our Lady of Lourdes School in Coquitlam, and served as the pre-school supervisor until 1988. On the same year, R.S. Lim and family relocated to New York City, where she would teach at the United Nations International School. Life in NYC, R.S. Lim was exposed various styles of Western Modern Art, and she was inspired to return to art making. From then, she started exhibiting in America, Canada, the Philippines and other countries, and would be active in the NYC and the BC art communities, and she would eventually serve as the president of the Filipino Music & Art Foundation in British Columbia, sponsor the Filipino-Canadian-American group PAGTITIPON, and serve as president of the Society of Philippine American Artists. In the Philippines, she founded the Lenore RS Lim Foundation for the Arts, which gave scholarships to deserving impoverished students who wanted to pursue a degree in the arts. Because of her dedication as an artist and art patron, R.S. Lim was given multiple distinctions and honors, such as the 2001 Outstanding Artist Award from the NYC’s Ma-Yi Theatre Company, the 2001 Outstanding Artist Award from the College of the Holy Spirit, the 2004 Pamanang Pilipino Presidential Award, the 2007 Outstanding Alumni Award by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA), and the 2009 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the US Innovators & Thought Category by the Filipinas Women’s Network (FWN).
Julie Lluch’s terracotta “Nude” shows the artist’s delving into more expressive and symbolical sculpture, compared to her earlier realistic renderings. What is still clear in this new style is Lluch’s honor of the woman. Here, Lluch doesn’t just represent the image of a young nude woman, but rather Lluch speaks of her potential to be a mother. From the unabashed portrayal of her vagina and public hair, Lluch continues the story of possible conception through the concave abdomen that represents the womb.
Julie Lluch (born 1946) was born in Iligan; and she has been a stalwart in feminist artist since the 1970s. First known for her life-size terracotta sculptures of herself, representing various issues and statements on a Filipina’s life, Julie has then moved on to experiments in film, as well as public sculpture made of bronze. Art in the art scene, Lluch co-founded the women artists’ groups KALAYAAN (Katipunan ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan) and KASIBULAN (Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan or Women in Art and Emerging Consciousness). She married fellow artist, Danny Dalena; and they had three daughters, whom they call the Tres Marias (three Marias), who have all become noted artists in their own right. In 1990, she was recognized with the Thirteen Artist Award.
Agnes Arellano’s sculpture entitled “Eternal Oval” is another example of the feminist celebration of the woman as mother. In many cultures the oval is a fertility symbol that represents the egg or womb. In Arellano’s piece, the oval is a woman curled up in a fetal position, another allegory to children. Yet in this sculpture, Arellano is also unapologetic in representing what the body a real woman has: imperfect with her thick arms and many folds on her belly.
Maria Agnes Almario Arellano (born 1949) first pursued psychology with degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila. Then she went on to explore other interests such as French language and civilization at the Sorbonne in Paris before returning to the University of the Philippines, and enrolled at the College of Fine Arts. Arellano soon developed a surreal form of sculpture, that were internal reflects of womanhood, myth and society. The tragic death of her parents and sister in a fire that razed her ancestral home greatly affected her, and influenced her art. She sculptures in synthetic marble reflect a darkness, that evoke pain and even questioning of self. In memory of family, Arellano decided to set up the nonprofit Pinaglabanan Galleries on the site of the ancestral home. In later exhibitions, she would continue to explore themes revolving around their deaths. Arellano would go on to represent the Philippines in many international events, such as the 1986 Berlin Biennale, and a 1996 Freeman Fellowship Residency in Vermont Studio Center. Arellano would also garner many awards, such as the Outstanding Alumna Award in the Field of Art by the St. John’s Academy in 1990, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists Award of 1988, and the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan for Pinaglabanan Galleries by the City of Manila in 1988.
This is the end of the first part of the tour of the Miriam College GAWA, as there are more artworks and women artists to discover at the second part of the gallery visit.