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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

The artists behind Philippine Art Month

Every month Abu Dhabi Art Hub hosts artists from a different country, giving them time and inspiration to work towards a final exhibition. Anna Seaman checks out Philippine Art Month and discovers a wide variety of talent.
From left, the Egyptian artist Chadi Adib Salawa and the Filipino artists Janos Delacruz, Eugene Cubillo, Moreen Austria, Buds Convocar, Flordeliza Pesigan, JC Jacinto and Sam Penaso. Silvia Razgova / The National
From left, the Egyptian artist Chadi Adib Salawa and the Filipino artists Janos Delacruz, Eugene Cubillo, Moreen Austria, Buds Convocar, Flordeliza Pesigan, JC Jacinto and Sam Penaso. Silvia Razgova / The National

When Moreen Austria first visited the UAE in February, she became fascinated with the black abaya. Already interested in fashion, she was intrigued by the long, flowing garment and was drawn to the cultural reasons behind it as well.

So, when she was invited back to complete a one-month residency at Abu Dhabi Art Hub, she knew exactly what would be the inspiration behind her art.

“What struck me most were the women in black; I was intrigued by the idea of what was behind the veil. My work has always been about women and so I did some research and discovered why the women cover themselves and realised that it can be liberating for them not to be judged on what they look like – I think it is therefore another way of defining beauty.”

Austria is one of 10 Filipino artists completing the residency, which is held within the Art Hub’s regular monthly programme that sees artists from a chosen country visit the capital and live on-site, working towards a final exhibition.

Her work – a selection of paintings of ethereal dream-like figures in black and one of a wedding dress with a long veil of material trailing down across the gallery floor – was hung inside the large warehouse in Abu Dhabi’s Mussaffah Industrial Zone. Like Austria, most of the other artists also took direct influence from the time they spent in the UAE.

“We always make sure our visiting artists see as much as possible of the country here before they start their art,” explains Inas Anoyo, the exhibition manager. “We take them on a tour of all the sights in the city and then to stay in the Liwa Art Hub in the desert for a couple of nights before they start their work.”

Many of the artists took this as their biggest cue. Samuel Penaso, for example, mixed desert sand with paint and emulsion to create a kind of cement, which he painted on his canvases to create a series of textured and linear works. Penaso is also a prominent performance artist at home in the Philippines: he dons a striped suit and films himself in obscure locations, a video of which plays next to his paintings at Abu Dhabi Art Hub.

Another artist inspired by the Abu Dhabi desert was Dave Lock, who mixed sand with tar before applying it to the canvas. “I was fascinated with the idea of using the sand here,” he explains, “because sand is ephemeral, just like we are, and just as humans want to preserve ourselves, I am trying to preserve the sand.”

Lock, who used to practise figurative art, explained that he used the Abu Dhabi residency to make the leap into conceptual work, an opportunity he is grateful for.

In other collections, the artists have used the symbols they associate with the country. Salvador “Buds” Convocar, for example, created mixed-media relief works by carving gazelles out of reinforced board and sticking them onto brightly painted canvases. Eugene Cubillo used faces and patterns that he found around the UAE and overlaid them with oil and paint to create textured montage pieces.

Janos Delacruz took everything he saw and compiled it in what he describes as a letter to his home.

“People back home always ask us what is new, what is happening and we try to write it in letters, but sometimes you can’t use words to describe what you see. My exhibition is like a letter telling people my experiences – I chose to paint the people, the landscape and express my feelings that way.”

While viewing the works, Ahmed Al Yafei, the founder of Abu Dhabi Art Hub, explains he was impressed with the wide variety of media and styles used by the artists from the Philippines. “The real interest, though, is to see the impact of their time in the UAE on their work; I think it is really strong with this group.”

However, not all the artists took direction from their trips around the country and instead chose to concentrate on their own recurrent themes. Lester Amacio, who lives and works at a gallery in Dubai, made an installation show titled Transmigration about the difficulties of working in the UAE, while Flordeliza Pesigan created spiritual paintings based on her experiences living in Bali for the past year.

“What is special about art from the Philippines is that it is so rich and diverse, it is impossible to define,” says Anoyo. “We have a lot of Filipinos living in the UAE and it makes us all proud to see this exhibition. We hope that they can all come again.”

Abu Dhabi Art Hub is open all summer and has many events happening over Ramadan. Visit www.adah.ae

aseaman@thenational.ae