Arts & Culture

Imelda Cajipe Endaya breaks artistic prejudices


THE adjective “imeldific” connotes over-the-top extravagance and a graspingly ambitious, opulent lifestyle. It derives its origin from the fallen cultural czarina and former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos.

Among the dedicated cultural workers in the Philippines, there is another Imelda they respect — one whose slim, wraith-like figure belies an able leader capable of “graciously bring(ing) people  into her orbit of creative energy without fear of being outshone or diminished,” as described by art studies professor Eileen Legaspi Ramirez.

At long last, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, visual artist, curator, writer and organizer, is receiving an overdue appreciation. The University of the Philippines Press recently launched the anthology of essays “Alter/(n)ations: The Art of Imelda Cajipe Endaya,” edited by Flaudette May V. Datuin, simultaneous with a mini-retrospective of her works ongoing at Liongoren Gallery, 111 New York Street, Cubao, Quezon City.

While the exhibit tracks her development from a printmaker to painter to mixed media, installation and collage artist, the book divides her life and career into frames not unlike the windows Cajipe Endaya used in past works as a metaphor for the world out there encroaching on a housebound woman or a marginalized person.

Editor Datuin calls these framing devices “patchwork,” the way “the artist mends, scissors and shapes patches of cloth…from her life;” “artwork,” the way she eliminated the line demarcating lowly domestic crafts like crochet and papier mache from fine arts; and “worldwork,” where her democratic tendencies have made her sensitive to the plight of migrant Filipinos, especially domestic helpers, and enabled her to depict their struggle for dignity in a globalizing world in such a compelling visual language.

Art critic Alice G. Guillermo credited Cajipe Endaya for being “at the forefront of breaking down long-held artistic prejudices” through her use of women’s traditional materials in a contemporary way. In “Musmos” for example, a 1990 work included in the Liongoren Gallery show, the artist paints the face of a girl smiling at an imaginary procession of food and toys although her plate is empty, a sign of hunger and want.

In her piece “My Mother and I,” Indira, Imelda’s daughter and multimedia artist, remembers a childhood of “no Barbies and no junk food.” She was taught “not to be afraid to be untidy and get one’s hands dirty.” This had a liberating effect on the younger woman as it showed her that “creating art and rearing children had neither separate hours nor clearly define breaks…strict borders never existed at home. The whole house was a studio with mounted canvases that would stretch across the entire dining area floor.”

Because anything and everything could serve as materials and stimuli for Cajipe Endaya’s art, Indira realized that “perhaps my mother’s art was a reaction to the times, as much as a reaction to society, domesticity and gender roles.”

She was often asked how it felt to be an artist’s daughter. Indira’s invariable reply was: “Not too different from being the daughter of a dentist or a housewife or a grocer.In reality though, I must admit that life was a tinge more experimental, nationalist, nonconsumerist and nonconformist.”

As Imelda went on to chalk up solo shows, international exposure and awards, Indira observed that her mother never became “self-conscious about being an ‘artiste’ and never had airs or a sense of entitlement.It was pure love of the work, just being professional.”

This “unflappable, low-key presence,” as another essayist, Cherubim A. Quizon, put it, made Cajipe Endaya effective as one of the founders of Kasibulan, a collective of women visual artists. Fellow founder and art educator Brenda Fajardo wrote that through Kasibulan, Cajipe Endaya was able to seamlessly weave the personal and the political. Through various fora and exhibits, Kasibulan has brought women artists closer and raised public awareness of such issues on gender biases and migrant women workers.

Because it is part of this artist’s character to not “sit idly by and merely allow institutions and cultural agents to open up her notions of empowerment,” Legaspi Ramirez has seen how Cajipe Endaya’s cultural initiatives have borne good fruits. Among these are Pananaw: Philippine Journal of Visual Arts that has widened the scope of art reporting and documentation to include the regions and provinces, Sung-duan, a national visual arts exhibition, the traveling exhibition-forum Who Owns Women’s Bodies? and Densities: Making Sense of Dense Cities, a large thought-provoking exhibition that tackled issues of heritage, shelter, power and environment.

Neferti Xina M. Tadiar’s “On Becoming Human” takes off from Cajipe Endaya’s installations on the theme of dehumanization of domestic helpers and the promise of hope. She called Filipino women like the artist as “potentially angels of technology descended onto earth, guardians of the antiquated arts of making life.”