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May 20, 2010

BENDIX FERNANDEZ

 

Amihan has always painted Muses – the women who have been her primary subjects all throughout her career as a visual artist. Yet her Muses are not creature akin to those external vessels of inspiration. What she reallypaints are daimons, personas that ancient Greeks believed we choose as guides for our higher self. As Rollo May, the existential psychologist, puts it: “The daimon is something very human and to be human is to have a daimon.”

Daimons or Muses, the artist (being the mercurial Gemini that she is) has several. And she shows them all in her latest solo art exhibit “Queen Building”, which opens at the Orange Gallery in Bacolod on May 24, 2010.

Here she presents her latest all-female cast like cards in a tarot deck designed by Camille Paglia or some other postfeminist icon. She steers clear of the more expressionist style that is the signature of most young artists and opts to present her work in clean lines and textures, like illustrations of the past. In “Riders” – dice are thrown by a white-robed woman and the beginning of a journey is teased. In “Gatekeeper” – a nude is seen straddling a circle, the whole painting a sensuous play on the portals that women guard. “Bride” – shows a mother and her daughters pose amidst roses and the playful outlines of prehistoric beasts. The series is all about laying her cards on the table and guiding us to an almost mythological exploration of her psyche and the many personas that inhabit it.

Our first impressions already place her works in the realm of symbolic meaning: women in fixed poses, interacting with portentous images, the total sum of their unreality heightened by the lack of background details. Her subjects are partially obscured by coils of white mist – an entity in itself that appears to be made of hundreds of painstaking lashes of paint. Like the Holy Ghost, it serves to unite the disparate images found on her compositions.

Let’s lay some of her cards down:

On “Iron Maiden” (acrylic on canvas), we see the artist’s solid and implacable likeness personifying a medieval torture device, one that opens with a hinged front and is wide enough to enclose a human being. Another figure crawls out of its dark, womb-like recess. The monochromatic painting manages to evoke both aggression and femininity, qualities that can be found in the artist’s earlier paintings.

On “Watchwoman” (acrylic on canvas),we see an imperial-looking woman holding a wheel like a sword while body parts float around her like puzzle pieces. She stares at us in critical observance, as if measuring our worth. Are the cut figures her work? Unlike Solomon’s biblical act of mediation, is this the persona of a perfectionist meting out objective judgment without the baggage of emotion?

These cards seem to mirror grim personas born out of the artist’s struggles to fuse being a mother and an artist in the years she has been largely absent from the art scene. Since her 2002 solo at the CCP, she has retreated into her other roles, coming out once in a while for the odd group show. “Motherhood brought out an obsession with order and perfection.” Amihan states. “Yes, I can get too critical of other people. But most especially of my own art.”

Her other personas are less gloomy. “Wheel” (acrylic on canvas) is a diptych where she lets a battalion of women march. The subjects’ arms are held stiffly in front of them like blades, as the aftermentioned wheel spins furiously in the background. Spread over two large canvasses, the cast radiates strength and momentum, and the whole piece inspires as a call to arms.

Here, and in other works, she parades her animus personas, co-opting their qualities of invincibility and willpower. It is a throwing down the gauntlet, a proclamation that the artist is here, that she has been marshalling her forces, and that she has never gone away. It is here that we catch an inkling of why the show is called “Queen Building”: it is a metaphor of women’s roles and art, of the journey across the board to gather power, to realize that a benevolent empress must have authority to protect those in her court and the things which she loves.

But all work and no play makes little Muses dull. In “Lovers” (acrylic on canvas), Amihan’s most delightful and arresting work in the series, she creates two doppelgangers of herself and sets them up in mischievous poses while a huge mastodon skull dominates the background. The specter and struggle of the past may loom large over her, but bones are bones, and the painting is a mocking rebuff on the power of history to hold someone down.

The painting is fitting as the last card in her repertoire. In the tarot, The Lovers come after the Emperor. While the series has been largely about building up and regaining control and authority as a woman and as an artist, The Lovers are about self-actualization; they’re about finding something that is such a part of you that to surrender control does not mean defeat or an abdication of power, but a show of confidence that it will always be there to wield.

In Amihan’s surreal female court, judges take measure, warriors march, and queens play – while we, the spectators, all applaud.