In the Lopez Museum, the explosive silence of four women artists

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In the Lopez Museum's "Pauses of Possibility," Elaine Navas offers large-scale paintings of different floral arrangements, some from gardens, others bouquets, and in the center, at the end of the long hallway by the entrance, a single rose. Photo by CARINA SANTOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In “Pauses of Possibility,” the Lopez Museum gathers four Filipino women artists — Marina Cruz, Kara de Dios, Elaine Navas, and Pam Yan Santos — in celebration of introspection and life’s quiet moments. Curated by Lopez Museum curator, Ricky Francisco, the works of these women, called “guest artists” in the exhibit notes, are arranged throughout the expanse of the museum space, joined by pieces and archival material from artists like Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Juan Luna from the museum’s Rizaliana collection.

In conversation with these artists, too, are some pieces from the museum’s permanent collection: work by post-Rizal artists like Nena Saguil, Romeo Tabuena, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Pacita Abad, Roberto Chabet, Alfonso Ossorio, and Juvenal Sansó, their voices like echoes from a not so distant past.

The notes invoke the words of poet Adrienne Rich, about the creative process in art: “[it] begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence.”

Both Cruz and Navas are primarily painters, Cruz with her perfectly still precision and Navas with her signature impasto, rendering zoomed-in and close-cropped images — in this case, of flowers — in bright, lush strokes.

Detail from "Laura" by Marina Cruz. Photo by CARINA SANTOS

Known for her renditions of children’s dresses, Cruz supplements her beautiful quiet pieces with that of a different, wider perspective: renderings of rooms with the cabinets where these dresses presumably reside, when they are not laid out like specimens to be examined. Aside from what comes across as portraiture of the dresses (some named after girls), one is offered scenes from the dresses’ other lives: as objects, used, stored, and kept clean and tucked away.

Accompanying these pieces are small structural sculptures and annotated photographs of the dresses, which, in this way, are almost treated like scientific specimens.

Navas, for her part, offers large-scale paintings of different floral arrangements, some from gardens, others bouquets, and in the center, at the end of the long hallway by the entrance, a single rose. The sensation of looking at a Navas painting recreates the artist’s moments of observation, where her singular focus is on each petal, leaf, and vein, and then, light and shadow. The viewer is transported to the scenes before her, and imbued with a strange feeling of being wholly consumed by something so intimate and seemingly quotidian.

Large-scale paintings of different floral arrangements by Elaine Navas. Photo by CARINA SANTOS

De Dios and Pam Yan Santos, on the other hand, have historically worked variedly from watercolors to mixed media and installations.

For “Pauses of Possibility,” de Dios offers ceramics, the apparent softness of which evokes both curves of the body and a miniature, disjointed, sprawling seascape. The youngest of the four, de Dios delivers a special quietness in her work, “Swell,” which she has described as “a sea of 137 swollen forms.” In the way “Swell” mimics the waves’ crests and troughs, de Dios puts forth her meditation on “breasts, bellies, tumors, and lumps,” an experience that the viewer is invited to partake in, as the piece welcomes interaction.

Kara de Dios' ceramics evokes both curves of the body and a miniature, disjointed, sprawling seascape. Photo from KARA DE DIOS/INSTAGRAM

Also requiring viewer participation is the centerpiece of Yan Santos’ contributions: a large cabinet, not unlike libraries’ card catalogs. Each drawer is supplied by a word and the viewer, sitting on a school chair across the imposing system, is invited to pause and do a bit of word association. Inside the drawers of seemingly innocuous words are confessions that range from silly, to delightful, to melancholy, to devastating.

For Pam Yan Santos' work, visitors are invited to participate by sitting on a school chair across a large cabinet, which looks similar to libraries' card catalogs. Photo by CARINA SANTOS

The show’s main point is not that hard to grasp, and the works selected by Francisco deliver it fairly easily. Moving through the space elicits an eeriness, partly because of the apparent stillness of the pieces. Introspection is required, almost demanded, of the viewer.

But there, too, is a thread that extends from as far back as the Spanish colonial times. Still landscapes, quiet portraits, geometric experiments, and abstractions anchor these newer pieces to the past, a reminder of the one unchanging value of each artist’s process. Quiet introspection — an act that the viewer is constantly invited to do and thus, with having done so, in a way, the viewer has experienced part of the process — made way for these pieces to exist.

It’s true that art is borne out of turbulent times, that these disturbances act like catalysts for artistic expression. But it is true, too, that silence — the lack of noise, the space for thought, the invisible anxieties that eventually push the artist to action — can provide the framework within which some meanings and expressions can come to light.


“Pauses of Possibility” is on display at the Lopez Museum until June 17, 2017.