Keiye Miranda


Haven't We Met Before?

The group exhibition, Haven't We Met Before? organized by Finale Art File one of the largest galleries in the Philippines, shows how generation after generation of Philippine contemporary artists are gradually deconstructing such traditional representations of the feminine figure in their individual works.

The exhibition features paintings by six women - Annie Cabigting, Yasmin Sison, Keiye Miranda, Lyra Garcellano, Nona Garcia and Liv Romualdez Vinluan - who have all emerged as top visual artists of their generation from the mid-1990s and onwards. Each has developed her respective thematic and aesthetic stamp over this relatively short period of time, deftly wielding both traditional and alternative media and modes of representation in the course of exploring one's idividual style.

While they produce distinctly different works, these six artists are commonly bound by gender, geography, artistic training and institutional recognition: all live and practice in or near Manila, the capital city, and have all majored in painting in the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, the country's oldest institution of Fine Arts. Half of the artists in this group have also been affiliated, at one point or another, with the pioneering artist-run space Surrounded by Water organized in the late 1990s. As the title implies, Haven't We Met Before? is a gathering of rans among artists acquainted with each other yet who leave space for more ambiguity and collaboration between themselves.

In Haven't We Met Before? the works by these six individuals decisively turn their back on the representation of women as a sight for the male eye to behold, as objects seeking the glowand affirmation of the masculine gaze. The female figure -
the unifying image and theme in all of their contributions to the show - is largely represented as an active spectator and purveyor of the work of art, a subject of unfolding personal transition, and not of objectification. In various ways, they confuse and belittle the gaze; literally and figuratively turning their backs to the traditional beholder oof the female form.

The transformation of the female form from object to subject particularly dominates the works of Annie Cabigting and Liv Romualdez Vinluan. For the show, Cabigting display's paintings of women looking at famous paintings - their backs to the camera, oblivious to the viewer and solely absorbed in the act of seeing. This is part of the artist's long-running series which has continuously captured in the act of viewing Art, hung on the white walls of museums and galleries. In Cabigting's work, however, the woman is no longer the Muse, the object of the masterpiece, nor subject of the viewers gaze: instead, she becomes part of the anonymous audience to whom art speaks.

In contrast, Vinluan's painting for the show presents an intense narrative wher the woman as subject fully engulfed by a rush of clouds, ropes, and fabric, caught in the middle of a deluge both physical and emotional. This haunting work recalls the artist's earlier artistic debut through a triptych entitled Sin Verguenzas, cited as the most outstanding thesis work in artschool back in 2009. Vinluan use of symbolism and theatricality in her painting convey an intensity of tension and turmoil. Yet this is no traditional representationof damsels in distress. Only Vinluan's subjects are capable of weathering the storm alone: faceless, they do not appeal for pity or deliverance and instead leave the viewer to witness their destruction or redemption.

Working seperately yet strikingly a common chord in their art are Yasmin Sison and Lyra Garcellano, who both utilize the process of erasure to create paintings reflecting on a wide range of themes. Sison presents a work from painting series based on images appropriated from fashion magazines. Here she deconstructs and deliberately defaces images of models that would have been otherwise digitally enhanced to emphasize the perfection of face and form. The carefully composed and posed scenes are jarred by Sison's erasure of the two figures from the canvas, as a nude painting looks on.

Reconstituting the Feminine
by Lisa Ito