Throughout history, art production by women artists have been largely sidetracked by works of their more renowned male counterparts. There is a prevalent foot-dragging to opening art galleries and museums featuring female perspectives.
A general view existed that women artists’ compositions are either predicated on their biological prejudices—creating images from experiences of “maternalness” or of having been weighed down by violence—or their images create idealized socially constructed biases that they have run up against.
In part, it is possibly so. Female reality consists of the nitty-gritty of women’s lives, feelings, and pertinence, all significant elements in their output.
Significantly, it was a man, Pliny the Elder, a 1st century CE (23-79) Roman writer who acknowledged that the first known drawing was made by a woman, Butades, who sketched her lover’s body contour onto a wall. However, it was not generally recognized until towards the end of the 20th century.
There were several women artists, especially in the painting genre, who earned acceptance for their work, mostly as autodidacts in art, without formal degrees, because the universities were reluctant to admit them.
Case in point: In 1723, Dutch painter Margareta Haverman got expelled from the French Academie Royale when the paintings she submitted were deemed too excellent that they could not have been accomplished by a woman.
Some women artists persevered—Sofonisba Anguissola, an Italian, during the 16th century; Maria Sibylla Merian, German, whose complex botanical illustrations were highly rated; Laura Knight; Dutch artist Therese Schwartze; and Zinaida Serebriakova, Russian. Other women failed to make a go of their artistic aspirations, bound by a general imposition that a woman’s function was to be a mother, then a housekeeper, then an acquiescent shadow of her husband.
Time heals bias. Today’s works by women artists enjoy more visibility and validation. Particularly, feminist art in the Philippines have been clearly defined and clarified, and a number of their outstanding works are entrenched on museum walls and prized by private art collectors.
When the Philippines was a colonial province of Spain (1521-1898), Philippine art thrived, with women artists enjoying lenient acceptance. Recently, Eloisa May P. Hernandez, PhD, of the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines and author of the book Homebound, Women Visual Artists in 19th Century Philippines, held a lecture at the Ateneo Law School in Makati City on the beginnings of women artists during that period starting with Pelagia Mendoza as the first female to study at the Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura founded by Damian Domingo.
“Beyond Odalisques: 19th Century Women Artists in the Philippines,” a program under Highlights, is a lecture series presented by the Ateneo Art Gallery and the Lopez Museum. The lecture discussed some of the institutions in the 19th century and how an artist and her pursuit of that passion led to the art world turf’s affirmation of her notability in a Philippine context.
Paz Paterno studied at the Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura under Lorenzo Guerrero. Her first still life was done in 1884 when she was 17 years old. Among her works are “Still Life with Bird,” “Fruit and Basket” 1884 (presently at the Central Bank of the Philippines), and “River Scene with Steamboat” in 1885. She was the first Filipino woman to paint a landscape.
Her sister, Adelaida Paterno (1881-1962) was also a painter. Her works include “Pasig River Scene” 1896, “Vista de Mariquina” 1897, and “Country Scene” 1897 made using her own hair. (Note: Some female artists today also use unusual materials to create their art. Naty Garcia Lozano uses print ad tear sheets, and Sunshine Plata uses barako coffee dissolved in water.)
Other female artists during the 19th century were Carmen Zaragoza, famous for her “Dos Intelligentias,” Concepcion de Montilla, Patricia Reyes, and Femina David.
After World War II, modernistic themes were the more popular artistic bent.
Araceli Dans is a name familiar to art collectors. Her early drawings when she was 8 were influences of Mickey Mouse. Fernando Amorsolo accepted her to the UP College of Fine Arts while she was still in high school, and got her degree in three years. She did propaganda comics during the Japanese occupation and did portraits of American soldiers when the Japanese left. Dans had over 100 solo and group exhibits and a retrospective at the Ayala Museum.
Anita Magsaysay-Ho (1914-2012) was considered as the first Filipina abstractionist. She studied under Amorsolo and Fabian de la Rosa. She was best known for her Social Realist and Post-Cubist chronicles of Filipino daily life, culture, and of women engaged in labor activities. Her style interprets her modernist ideas—stylization, design, and rhythm rather than a veridical portrayal of the visible world.
Norma Belleza was born in 1939. Her leanings were influences of her parents who did billboard designs and movie marquees when such were the mediums for advertisement. Her initial renderings were of dark and solemn images of religious objects before she immersed herself in the Philippine everyday life, fiestas, flowers, folk genre, and women vendors.
Fatima Baquiran, born in 1971, is the daughter of Philippine artists Antonio and Norma Belleza. She does still life using impastoed colors with an Impressionist touch.
Remedios Boquiren’s paintings of women and flowers possess a kind of inner glow in them. They are lushly hued in compelling color mixes in the Romanticism style. Her solo exhibition, “The Way We Wear” was a well-received display of Filipiniana wardrobe during the past four centuries.
Lydia Velasco is a member of Malang’s Saturday Group. She worked mostly for advertising companies and focused on women subjects merging their spiritual and sensual conflicts under a chiefly patriarchal society. Thus her women had elongated figures, massive bodies, and had whiffs of masculine decidedness in them.
Maningning Miclat lived for her art. She infused much of the Chinese ideals in her works, like her Chinese bamboo Zen paintings. The mention of her name brings to mind the tragic end of Vincent Van Gogh. Miclat, in 2000 at age 28, jumped to her death from the 7th floor of the Education Hall Building of the Far Eastern University where she was teaching.
Other female artists who have made names are Pacita Abad (1947-2004), Karina Baluyot, Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Camille de la Rosa, Brenda Fajardo, Nena Saguil (1924-1994), Lyd Arguilla, and Inday Cadapan.
Like a photograph that must silently speak of a thousand word to be considered slashing, a painting must also be essentially wordless. Paintings sing in tinctorial splendor. They tell of a lightness of spirit. They curse with a profound sense of disconnection from what is real. They are images that make a viewer reel back or be refreshed with their sweetness. On these precincts, women artists in the Philippines have succeeded in having their voices heard.
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