Throughout my studies as a studio art major, I envied my Chinese and Latina friends who had easy access to an abundance of resources on artists to study and look for inspiration. Being Filipino American, I did not have the same kind of access to references like other cultures. In the Asian American community, many of our art sources stem from major countries such as Japan, China, and Korea. Although their art is inspiring and altogether amazing, I craved the connection to my Filipino culture through art. I checked both public and University libraries in my area to discover two or three books on Filipino art. Even during my trips to San Francisco museums, there were rarely any Filipino American artists on exhibit.
Four years ago I visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco for the first time. I could count on one hand how many Filipino pieces were displayed. It was irritating such a large institution could only show a few artifacts from the ancient past, missing out on a huge part of Filipino culture and history.
Thankfully, they added more pieces by important Filipino artists in their recent show Philippine Art: Collecting Art, Collecting Memories. Much to my amazement, both male and female artists were represented. A small snapshot of Filipino history was finally recognized in a well known museum in the Bay Area, which has a large Filipino population. Though our culture and history is full and rich, the exhibit still only featured a small collection. But it was a great step taken towards representation of the Filipino community.
Within Philippine Art: Collecting Art, Collecting Memories, the piece that spoke to me the most was Benedicto Cabrera’s etching titled 1081. This print was made in 1975 in reference to Proclamation 1081, which enforced martial law under Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. Marcos consolidated his power, using military power to rule the lands. 1081 showcases the terror of Marcos’ reign with the lone soldier in the middle, walking on a pile of dead bodies. Cabrera used a collage like approach to the piece that allowed each scene within the frame to be experienced as snippets from the news. I am not only drawn to this piece as a printmaker in appreciation to the brilliant techniques Cabrera used but as a Filipino American who sees the fear created by our own president’s idea of ruling with terror in modern day could repeat a similar history and how art can be used as a voice against the injustices that occur.
Through much research and a few connections, I was able to find additional sources of inspiration. One key website was the Filipino American Directory of Artists. Artists from all over the United States and the Philippines are featured on this directory, covering a broad range of art from installation, painting, printmaking, performance, illustration, and more. I felt that this website provided a great example of the different experiences Filipino Americans go through. Being able to see contemporary artists and how they navigate Filipino American culture through their art was helpful in thinking about the Filipino American experience and how that affects my personal work.
Being able to see ourselves represented in art is important because art acts as a voice of the people. It helps us think about what it means to be Filipino American and what our people have experienced or are currently experiencing. It is beneficial not only to the people of the same culture, but also helps those outside of it as well. Art educates and gives insight to the culture or the issue presented.
Being a Filipino American artist, I want my audience to be able to relate to my work whether or not they are Filipino, but I also find it even more exciting when someone becomes excited over recognizable imagery that we both could relate to through our culture. Although Filipino American art is still hard to come by, slowly but surely we will work our way into better representation and hopefully that will lead other underrepresented communities to follow suit as well.
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Amanda Pascual - Vallejo, CA
Amanda is an artist who recently graduated from California State University Sacramento. Through her love of painting and printmaking, Amanda wishes to represent her Filipino American culture through her idea of home. She also wants the diverse Asian American population to be better represented in the art scene.