A series of artist talks and workshops revolving around the veil will take place in connection with Revolving Secret Garden (RSG) recently launched and now on show at the second floor of the UP Vargas Museum. Conversing with Mark Salvatus’ Secret Garden, artworks by Kiri Dalena, Lyra Garcellano and Alma Quinto present a gallery of faces that can be viewed through peepholes: a portrait of Muslim woman leader by Quinto, whose body of work involves working with communities, most of whom are survivors of abuse, disaster, illness and the like; a face on which flow unwavering tears by Dalena, whose footage of Gina Alajar was originally meant for a Violence Against Women campaign; and blurred faces of undocumented migrants in New York by Garcellano, whose work hints at the artist’s discomfort at the very process of shooting and capturing images of reluctant subjects. The veil covers and conceals, but also reveals and empowers. One is a literal veil as well as a symbol of identity and agency worn casually by Yasmin, the subject of Quinto’s soft sculpture; the veil is figurative concealer on Garcellano’s photographic images; and in Dalena’s video, the veil is a vale of tears.  Each veil has a story to tell.

One story is told by a Dalena film on the veil (Kombong), followed by talks by Dalena and Garcellano, October 5, 10-1, Faculty Center 2104.

On October 7, 10-1, UP Vargas Museum basement, workshop participants will sew their own stories and will converse with participants of Quinto’s recent workshop in South Korea and the story of homeless women artists by visiting Japanese artist Miho Nakanishi.

Revolving Secret Garden is a project of the Art Criticism class (https://therevolvingsecretgarden.wordpress.com/contact-us/) and the Art Studies Society, under the supervision of the University of the Philippines Department of Art Studies.

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A Secret to Tell

“The essence of garden is that it is outdoors, open, light, spacious, natural…”

Susan Sontag

Revolving Secret Garden emerges out of the Art Criticism (Art Studies 192, first semester 2011-2012, UP Department of Art Studies) class’ fascination with Mark Salvatus’ Secret Garden, an installation tucked away in some corner of the second floor of the UP Vargas Museum. Mingling with much older pieces from the permanent collection, Secret Garden was placed under the thematic cluster “Light.” While gardens are mostly outdoors, open, light, spacious, and natural, as Susan Sontag puts it, Salvatus’ is indoors, hidden, artificial and dim, accessible only through a crack afforded by a door partly ajar to allow a peep, but refuses to budge even an inch more. Right outside the door is a well-lit and cheerful French landscape by Juan Luna and opposite this painting is a view of the lush garden outside, visible through the glass.

Knowing that Salvatus’ secret garden emerges out of the artist’s collaboration with inmates of a prison, we are drawn to the complex interplay between darkness, dankness, and shadows (the cave of the prison house), on one hand, and hope, redemption, enlightenment and illumination, on the other.

We take the cue from this interplay through artworks that converse with the Salvatus piece displayed in three enclosed “boxes” mounted on a platform, and viewed through “peeping” holes. The display not only mimics the “teasing” character of the Salvatus installation; it also radiates with themes related to voyeurism, secrecy, mystery, invisibility – key terms that the selected artworks converse with through photography, sculpture and video.

In one work, Lyra Garcellano brings to cautious light undocumented migrants in pursuit of the American dream, whose blurred and unrecognizable images adorn a homey wall, like badges of a family’s “accomplishments.”   Nicknamed TNTs or Tago ng Tago (literally always in hiding), these people are forced to remain invisible, revealed, concealed and “violated” by a medium that “shoots” people and captures their images through light, an element integral to photography.

Alma Quinto’s soft sculpture renders in cloth and foam a Muslim leader defiantly posed with her veil casually draped around her face, thus bringing to affectionate light the struggle of women many times marginalized. The piece is inspired and emerges from Quinto’s work with communities, most of whom are survivors of abuse, illness, dislocations, and all forms of violence.

Kiri Dalena’s video also springs from such engagement. Her contribution is a never-been-used footage of Gina Alajar, who kindly agreed to “weep” with a constant almost blank expression, originally intended for a Violence Against Women (VAW) campaign. Due to many reasons, the footage has never been screened till now. The idea hit the aetist when she was washing her hair and chanced upon a “No more tears” ad by Johnson&Johnson baby shampoo. In addition to this inspiration from commercial popular culture, Dalena also draws on her knowledge of Ms. Alajar’s reknown as an actress with an impressive filmography related to the VAW issue (Oro Pro Nobis, Kapit sa Patalim, Dukot, etc).

To view these artworks the viewers have to “revolve” or move around the boxes, like voyeurs, who upon stepping back find themselves “caught” in the act by their own memories and reflections, a term that refers both to mirror-image and thought, unlocked through the  “secret” language of art.

Flaudette May Datuin,PhD