Women Artists Bring Together Advocacy and Art - BluPrint

Manila is seeing its fair share of immersive exhibits with captivating artworks of Isabel Santos, Nikki Luna, and Marina Cruz – and their eloquent insights into the complexity, dynamism, and beauty of the female experience.

Filipino women artists
Nikki Luna behind her work “Female Fighter”, made of M4 Bullet Holes on white aluminum panel. Photo courtesy of riarecommends.com
Filipino art
Marina Cruz
Isabel Santos
Isabel Santos in her studio in Quezon City

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NIKKI LUNA

Nikki Luna’s work brings together advocacy and art. Her body of work primarily tackles social-political concerns. A proud feminist and activist, her work is notable for highlighting women’s issues, including the problems of rape, sexual harassment, domestic workers, and migrant workers. 

Nikki Luna was born in 1977 in Manila. She initially studied Political Science at the University of the Philippines but graduated under the said university’s Fine Arts program, focusing on visual art. In 2008, Luna conducted a residency at the Cooper Union Summer Art Residency in New York. In 2015, she was one of thirteen artist awardees of the Cultural Center Of The Philippines. The following year, she received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council. She is also a recipient of the prestigious Chevening Award to conduct a Masters in Art and Education at the University of London in the UK. In 2018 she authored the book “I Love My Body” to raise body awareness among girls. The book was published under Power In Her Story, a publishing house she founded to create books focusing on mainstreaming women’s human rights and gender equality, emphasizing the needs of marginalized groups of girls and women.

Notable for highlighting women’s issues, her art has been exhibited in Blanc Gallery, 1335 Mabini Gallery, Finale Art File Gallery, CCP, Vargas Museum, and Lopez Memorial Museum. Internationally, she has exhibited in Singapore, New York, London, and Milan. Her works that stand out for unconventional use of materials have also been featured in the Cairo Biennale, Aichi Triennale, Singapore Biennale, Beijing Biennale, and Le Festival International des textiles Extra Ordinaires in France.

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Political Art
“Dancing With a Dictator” from THIS IS HOW TO BE A WOMAN OF THE WORLD solo exhibit at 1335 Mabini Gallery.

These are wood-carved shoes from Filipino carvers communities. The work represents Former first lady Imelda Marcos’ crystal-encrusted strappy pumps, which she wore to her husband’s inauguration in 1965. The artist wants to remind the viewers that justice for Martial Law victims has been eluded to this day, and criminals are still dancing free.

Feminist Art
A few of the series of guns Luna has made in the course of 10 years.

By working with lacework from wedding dresses from various women and resin cast guns, the artist imbues the weapons with femininity both in form and content. The artist said: “With these guns, I lay bare the culture of rape and repression that has silenced every woman. Threatened and killed by patriarchy, gender prejudice, and poverty, they must resist together. Womanhood is a weapon.”

Contemporary Geopolitical Art
“Scars on the Reef” for RAPE OF SEAS exhibit at Vienna Unttld Contemporary Gallery in Austria.

This work is composed of fifty pieces of miniaturized giant clams made from 3D scans of actual giant clams from Chinese poachers in the West Philippine Sea, resembling scarred hymen, echoing the scars on the reefs.

Swarovski Beauty Queen Crowns
“Crafted Spectacle” at the ManMadeWoman Solo exhibit in Manila.
Photo courtesy of Silverlens Galleries

The exhibition was later on showcased at AIR GALLERY 14th Biennale curated by Jasmine Wahi in New York. The installation is composed of eight Swarovski beauty queen crowns and a voice/sound recording sound installation. The Audio being played under the crown is a conversation between the artist and “Inay,” a local community survivor of repeated state-sponsored demolitions to give way to land development for commercial ventures in Agham Road, Quezon City. The artist shares the audio sound of the ‘Q&A’ from Miss Universe 1997: Brook Lee of the USA with the women in the community. 

Social Commentary in Art
“Backbone” for the LABOR Exhibit at Cultural Center of the Philippines.

This work is made of ceramic cast female vertebrae and the scythe/sickle farming tool. The work speaks of ordeals of the Filipina worker working in pineapple plantations in the southern part of the Philippines, coinciding with the much-publicized struggles of factory workers in a substandard-equipped factory that caught fire and claimed the lives of women and their children whom they brought to work.  

Luna, who believes that art is a shared experience that nourishes the soul, is now based in Spain. She is still active in her work for Power In Her Story. Just this year, a French edition of her book was launched under Bayard Presse. She is currently working with migrant Filipina workers and their struggles in Spain for her next exhibit in Barcelona as she continues to employ her art in her activism. 

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MARINA CRUZ

Pre-eminent visual artist Marina Cruz discovered her primary subject, the dress, in 2002. She is best known for her nostalgic photorealistic paintings of old clothes treasured by her family. A feeling of nostalgia and highlights family values come to mind when viewing her work. She has amassed over 100 pieces of clothing from her family members as well as their memories of these treasured garments.

Marina Cruz Garcia was born in 1982. She graduated from the University of the Philippines with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2003. Around this time, When Cruz was looking for a piece of fabric for printmaking plates, she found her mother’s old baptismal dress. Greatly inspired by her mother’s old clothing, she began to paint dresses from her grandmother.  Imagining her mother as a child was an intensely surreal experience for the artist. The dress evoked emotions from the past experiences and history of her childhood. Realizing the value of time and life, Cruz felt that she needed to preserve that memory. 

In 2004, She won the Juror’s Choice in the GSIS Painting Competition and won the Grand Prize in the Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards in 2007, now known as Philippine Art Awards. The following year, she won the Ateneo Art Awards and was granted a fellowship at the Visual Art Center, La Trobe University in Australia. Consequently,  she received the Freeman Foundation Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center in Vermont. In 2012, She was one of CCP’s Thirteen Artists Awardees. Her work was featured in numerous exhibitions at key galleries and museums such as Artinformal Gallery in Makati, Ateneo Art Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, 1335 Mabini, among others. Internationally, she has exhibited at Vienna, Taipei, Berlin, Bangkok, Sydney, Beijing, Kaohsiung, and Singapore.

The Twins, 2006
Photorealistic paintings by Marina Cruz
Marina Cruz’s works are redolent of personal narratives and familial bonds.

She and her husband, famed artist Rodel Tapaya, initially started having problems starting a family. With her husband’s urging, they decided to adopt. They were blessed with an 11-month-old boy named Yohan after two months of filing all the requirements at DSWD. And just a month later, she found out she was pregnant with her second son, Keon.

As an advocate of domestic adoption, she shares her art and advocacy by traveling the country and sharing her own story. She lets her art help spread her message because she was fortunate enough to discover a new, beautiful way to form families. She says that “Family is not defined by biology alone, but love.”

Marina Cruz has an ongoing show titled “Tide Table′′ at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan. It is on view until October 17, 2021. 

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ISABEL SANTOS

Being in a family of respected artists and being surrounded by art since she was a child, It was no surprise that Isabel Santos would become a painter herself. 

Isabel “Beng” Santos was born in 1991. When she was young, family trips were spent visiting museums and art galleries. She graduated from Ateneo De Manila University. On one study trip abroad, she found herself looking forward to the parts of the trip focused on art. But it wasn’t until after she graduated from school that Santos began to pursue her art. The freedom to explore art on her own terms, she explains, helped her learn to appreciate it. 

A consistent theme in her work is vintage comics, which is not surprising since it was through comics that she learned how to draw. The era of midcentury comics fascinates and inspires her, and the simple lines, as well as techniques, suited her style. 

Although it took a while to define what she wanted to do or create, she did it in her own time. Her first group show happened in 2013. As of late, she has exhibited works at West Gallery, Blanc Gallery, Secret Fresh Gallery, and Silverlens. She has had residencies in New York, France, and Berlin. 

Isabel Santos
Isabel Santos in her studio in Quezon City
Comic-inspired Art
Just a Touch, Acrylic on Canvas
Above and Over
Uniqlo UT GRAND PRIX
“A Fortune in Jewels Kept in Your Safe.” Only What I Want to See, Blanc Gallery

She looks up to Mariano Ching, Jigger Cruz, Kawayan de Guia, Yasmin Sison, and her father – the celebrated artist, Soler Santos. She is inspired by her mother, Mona Santos, and Geraldine Javier’s work ethic. Earlier this year, Uniqlo announced her as the grand winner of the clothing brand’s annual UT Grand Prix, which is in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Her submission was from an existing piece in her Only What I Want to See show at Blanc Gallery in 2018. Titled “A Fortune in Jewels Kept in Your Safe,” the design features cutouts of retro Hollywood hairstyles in front of the shirt. The back, on the other hand, bears the faces of women in varying emotions. Her work was chosen over 10,000 entries, making her the first Filipino to win the prize since its launch in 2005. The shirts with her design on them were sold in Uniqlo stores worldwide.

Santos believes that art, along with any vocation or talent, can contribute to an advocacy close to the heart. Being an animal lover, she has drawn pet portraits for a fee and gave all the proceeds to MBY pet sanctuary and to Hound Haven Philippines. She recently donated an enclosure for Strays Worth Saving, an organization dedicated to rescuing stray dogs and cats.

The stylish artist is currently working on a show for Pablo Gallery in September and plans to do another residency in Italy in October of this year. 

Through their work, these women artists explore the themes of feminism, history, politics, and identity. Their captivating artworks are, in and of themselves, instruments of awareness and change.

Notes about the Contributor

Daniel Lampa

Art enthusiast and into Fashion, French Culture, Mid-century modern design and spends a lot of his time curating his home in Manila and LA. He lives with his 3 dogs, Coco, Yohji and Junya.