Arts & Culture

Raffy T. Napay: Threads of life

Images courtesy of Ateneo Art Gallery, West Gallery, Silverlens Galleries,X Florence Biennial, and R.C. Ladrido

Tayo, 2023.West Gallery

Raffy T. Napay has been stitching threads in a variety of colors and patterns for over a decade now. He used to work in oil paints but a serious allergy led him to switch to thread and scrap cloth, materials plentiful around him. Later in 2010, when working on a piece for an art competition, he asked his mother, a seamstress, to teach him how to sew.

Thread and fabric opened endless possibilities for the artist, creating works that entail stitching, folding, twisting, braiding, knotting, or coiling that highlight their textural and tactile quality.

In his meticulous way, Napay untangles spools and spools of threads, unraveling them into works of abstraction or figuration. With each experimentation, he pushes further the boundaries of the medium.

Textile art might be having a moment now as seen in international exhibits but for a long time, it has been labeled pejoratively as “craft” or “applied art” as opposed to “fine art.”

Selected works: Ties that bind

he Family 2013 Ateneo Art Awards 2013

In Napay’s textile art, the centrality of family remains his raison d’être, no more and no less.

Family and home as  an oasis of quietness and safety remain a recurring theme, interspersed with nature, trees and lush foliage. You can always go home again, no matter what. In Napay’s works, a complex web of connections, visible and invisible, intertwine us with each other.

Sanctuary, 2013

Sanctuary Ateneo Art Awards 2013

In accepting the Ateneo Art Awards (AAG) in 2013 as one of its three winners, Napay underscored in Tagalog that his connection to his family is what he knows and understands best. It is what he has been expressing in his works, in so many ways.

Napay presented his work, Sanctuary, using his signature thread and fabric medium, supplemented with neon-colored lights, to convey the dichotomy of brightness vs. darkness.

It was Napay’s 2013 exhibit, Thread Experience in West Gallery that was nominated for the AAG with its centerpiece, The Family (2013), a portrait of his family taking shelter in an open field. He depicts their interconnectedness with each other, a bond that never wavers, in good times and in bad times.

Expressing his feelings towards his family, Napay pays tribute to his parents in The Hunter, My Father and The Sewer, My Mother.  In The Harvest, he portrays the gratitude of children in supporting their parents and their resilience of being together amidst bad weather in Still Walking.

Tahanan, 2018

Tahanan, 2018, CCP RCLadrido

Napay’s site-specific installation in CCP, Tahanan shows a tree with a verdant crown, hanging vines, and its central trunk hollowed out, hiding a nest. Again, the nest as home, a safe place, and a cocoon from the noisy and angry world outside.

Mugmog, 2023

Mugmog Exhibit, 2023 West Gallery

In Mugmog (West Gallery, December 2023), Napay uses clumps of fabric or thread scraps, known as mugmog in Tagalog, to create figurative works that reiterate his ode to family and home, as expressed in the following works: Tayo, Magkakakonekta, Bukas, Pinanggalingan, Pakiramdam, and Binubuo, all done in 2023.

The artist

An advertising graduate of Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology, Napay (b.1986, Pangasinan) grew up in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan, considered as the biggest slum area in Metro Manila in the 1970s. He finished  primary and secondary education at Bagong Barrio Elementary School and Bagong Barrio National High School.

His father, a tricycle driver, and his mother, a seamstress, both eked out a living to raise and feed their three children. Helping his father, Napay would also drive the tricycle when he was older.  He sold one of his favorite works, Traysikel, in exchange for a brand-new tricycle unit for his father.

X Florence Biennial 2015

Awards and recognition

The year 2008 became a magic year for Napay, winning several top prizes:  Philippine Art Awards, Metrobank Art and Design Excellence Award, Maningning Miclat Award Foundation, and the FEU Inter-University On-the-Spot Art Competition. In 2012 and 2014, he got the top prize again in the Philippine Art Awards; Ateneo Art Awards in 2013; the Thirteen Artists Award, Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2018; and the 2nd award in Textile & Fiber Art at the 2015 Lorenzo Il Magnifico Florence Biennial, Florence, Italy.

The Ateneo Art Awards granted him two artist-in-residence programs, in Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom and Artesan Gallery+ Studio, Singapore. It also led to solo exhibitions at Art Stage Singapore with Artesan Gallery in January 2015 and at the Ateneo Art Gallery in August 2015.