KARP: Meeting Agnes Arellano

A few years back, my friend showed me a book of sculptures by some artist I was not familiar with. She said I should see it because the sculptures reminded her of my drawings. Three years ago, I was back in Manila for a short vacation and while I was in The Metropolitan Museum, I distinctly remember seeing a few stark-white sculptures of three women which seemed really interesting to me. It was the series of The three Woman Buddha Mothers: the virgin (Vesta), the mother (Dea) and the crone (Lola). On one spontaneous and moonlit night at the Malasimbo Festival in Mindoro, without planning or even realizing it, I got to finally meet her.

Agnes Arellano and her life partner, Billy Bonnevie, were both staying in the little Mangyan Village recreated for the festival. The night turned magical when he brought out his traditional instruments and started a completely spontaneous and organic jamming session with us, the nearby artists hanging around their hut. Before we knew it, the nearby army men and first-aid people also joined in, dancing and playing the other instruments. The other Filipino and European tourists got intrigued by the music and started crowding the area as well.

I felt that she was a woman of so much wisdom. I've noticed it in certain people, that they seem to exude this mystical, calm and graceful nature. Agnes and I had a few wonderful moments of conversation through-out the night and she was kind enough to invite us into her home in Manila. A few weeks after, Eric and I visited her and Billy in their house and studio. They showed us around the place and that was when I realized that she was the creator of those sculptures in the book and the sculptures in the museum.

Most people, upon first sight of her art, would be shocked by her imagery. Recurring visual symbolism in her works are: breasts, female and male genitals, nudes, lovers making love and etc. From a young, emerging artist who uses similar imagery, I was very curious as to how she handles the reception. I personally admire her works because I think they're fearless, not self-conscious and not in the least apologetic of its raw and truthful nature. In the Philippines (and perhaps in other parts of the world, too), this imagery can easily be considered as lewd and offensive. In her book, there was a section there describing a negative reception on her imagery from a prominent woman on her masterpiece, "Carcass-Cornucopia". Agnes simply reacted by asking her the question, "Madam, is that all you see?".

Her works are very honest, even downright blunt, but filled with so much layers that not only touch upon personal sentiments, but also encompass national and universal ideas. They resonate to me, before I even met her. They're very primal and instinctive. She also believes in the iconic power of the divine feminine and absolute harmony of the opposites, no matter how much they seem to be in war with each other. Her own life is usually the source for her subject matter and her own body, the mold for her plaster/marble sculptures. The level of intensity and passion both applied in her life and her works is extremely remarkable. It feels like a mixture of brilliance and truth constantly in motion, although captured in remote stillness,  manages to retain movement with all its united opposites and beautiful contradictions.

Check her website to view more of her artworks.