Imelda Cajipe Endaya’s constant search for Filipino identity

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Cajipe Endaya's "Tatsulok" series. Photo courtesy of IMAHICA GALLERY

There’s something familiar about these forms: loose and bold lines are composed into an order that instinctively draws you in. Everyday objects are imbued with a kind of magic in “The Abstractions of Cajipe Endaya" — a salted egg rendered in its distinct fuchsia seems to dance amid monochromatic shapes; repetitive triangular patterns commonly associated with banderitas possess a certain groove; silhouetted animals move electrically among rolling hills and a sky bursting with color.

Looking around the gallery space, you begin to notice how these works are kinetic — line, color, and shape shift and undulate, lending a temporal quality to their canvas and becoming objects moving in time. “Ambon at Sinag” features multiple cloud forms obscuring a yolk-colored sun. The repetitive cloud and sun motif on the canvas capture the moment like a stop motion animatic. For those of us living in tropical climates, it’s easy to imagine this weather: a rainy sky abruptly breaking apart to bathe a glistening, wet landscape in the sun’s bright, hot light.

Imelda Cajipe Endaya presents several of her prints created between the period of 1970 to 1998 for her latest show with Imahica, a new commercial gallery in Mandaluyong. These works are imbued with a rhythm and grace executed by the skilled hands of the artist.

“Ambon at Sinag” by Imelda Cajipe Endaya. Photo courtesy of IMAHICA GALLERY

"The Abstractions of Cajipe Endaya'' on view at IMAHICA. Photo courtesy of IMAHICA GALLERY

Born in 1949, she is most recognized for her representational works that explore Filipino identity and provide social commentary. The prints featured in this show are a side of the artist not many people have seen. “Well, I guess I really made abstractions first, because I enjoy doing it. It’s just so natural… it’s like play, you know?” the artist explains, a glimmer in her eye. Cajipe Endaya is slight and soft-spoken, carrying herself with a lightness that makes it easy to imagine her in this state — playful, and leaning into her impulse to observe and synthesize the world through creative practice.

In her long and prolific career, the artist has worn many hats: as an organizer and activist, a curator, and pioneer of “Pananaw,” Philippine Journal of Visual Arts. She and her contemporaries have tilled the soil well, helping to create today’s vibrant and discursive arts ecosystem. It is no wonder that the artist is set to hold a retrospective show at CCP this coming September. When asked about this, she seems to be tempering her joy. Laughing, Cajipe Endaya says “I feel proud and excited, but I don’t want to be too excited.”

Her decisions are rooted in an advocacy, one that puts social justice and nationalism at the core of her practice. “Identity is still relevant," the artist explains. “When I was starting to consciously search for it in the ‘70s, and I found some inspiration from history, I said: ‘this is it, I found it!’ But then you find it and then you’re challenged again. There are so many threats to Filipino empowerment that you have to keep on strengthening your identity.”

“Itlog na Maalat #1" and “Itlog na Maalat #2.” Photo courtesy of IMAHICA GALLERY

“Itlog na Maalat #1" and “Itlog na Maalat #2” from 1974 is an unusual pair of works. Fuschia pink eggs hop and swim with a frenetic energy amidst a bleak landscape of burrows and barbed wire. It’s a tribute to the salted egg commonly found on the tables of Filipinos rich or poor; possessing a flavor that reminds one of home. The humble food becomes a way for the artist to channel her thoughts on migration and the OFW experience into her work, with her saying that it is a craving that Filipinos living abroad often possess. Her works reflect the artist’s preoccupations not just on identity, but the challenges faced by Filipinos in different contexts.

In 1987, shortly after People Power Revolution, Cajipe Endaya, together with Brenda Fajardo, Anna Fer, Ida Bugayong, and Julie Lluch — a powerhouse of Filipina artists — founded Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan (KASIBULAN). “We decided to focus on women artists, because there were very few then who were exhibiting or given credit.” KASIBULAN remains active to this day, continuing the work of providing spaces and opportunities for female artists to grow.

Imelda Cajipe Endaya. Photo courtesy of IMAHICA GALLERY

Printmaking is a repetitive and arguably tedious process. The works featured in the show are mostly collographs, serigraphs, and etchings, some of which are combined with techniques like collage, resist dyeing, and embossing. This varied approach creates a dynamism that is also found in some of the artist’s representational work, where she employs materials like leaves and textiles in her paintings. When asked about the process of making art, the artist described it as meditative, though she points out that this was not always done in isolation.

“At certain stages, printmaking could be solitary, she says.” “But I actually created prints in a workshop with The Philippine Association of Printmakers (PAP), where I learned many techniques (from others like) Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi for example, or (Orlando Castillo)...We did individual works, but they were great influences. It was a good exchange, not just for techniques but also for viewpoints.”

“What I want to see is how the younger people can still relate to my work. I’m happy to see if they can still relate to (it)... but I have to ask: is it something to be happy about, that it is still relevant? It’s still a question.”

Interfacing with people, her environment, and asking questions about the world seems to be integral to Cajipe Endaya’s practice. “I think that it’s very important that artists engage with the community and the world, and not just stay in an ivory tower or in the studio.”

After so many years working as an artist, she hasn’t stopped thinking about our country’s social landscape. Musing on her CCP show in September, which will feature some of her more political work, she says “[w]hat I want to see is how the younger people can still relate to my work. I’m happy to see if they can still relate to (it)... but I have to ask: is it something to be happy about, that it is still relevant? It’s still a question.”

The exhibition at Imahica, which runs from July 23 to August 12, 2022, feels like a precursor to her CCP retrospective, whetting the palate and leaving you wanting more. It’s a treat to witness Cajipe Endaya’s creative impulses; her curious eye and intuitive hands simultaneously searching for and strengthening Filipino identity through her work and decades-long commitment to this advocacy.