The Sculptures of Agnes Arellano: An Odyssey into Our Innermost Selves

Dea, 1996

A walk through the exhibit assails one's senses: the female form in all its nakedness, full pendulous breasts, vulvas and vaginas, a womb filled with life, skulls in a row, and more. The male element is not forgotten, in phalluses and giant bronze-coated bullets, its penile form gleaming under the tropical sun.

A celebration of 36 years of practice, Inscapes: A Retrospective by Agnes Arellano (b. 1949) is an open-air exhibition of 16 works, a recombination of sculptural pieces from her Inscape exhibits, 1983-1996. It runs until 15 March 2020 at the Ignacio Gimenez Amphitheater, Areté, Ateneo de Manila University.

Arellano uses the word "inscape" to refer to "the underlying design of an object which gives it coherence." It is taken from the writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century English poet.

Set against the perimeter of the amphitheater and bordered by photinia shrubs with shiny green leaves and reddish tips, the exhibit's large pieces dominate the tableau with smaller works scattered around, all laid out on bluish-gray gravel.

Selected Works

Arellano's early works are mostly autobiographical and retrace the artist's life experiences through "healing and illness, love and loss, early motherhood to midlife crisis."

She uses cold-cast marble of her own (younger) body in her works that are later recast into some other materials. In her words, "the direct modeling method forces me to stop thinking any further about subjects which I have researched for several months, thus allowing the visual and tactile medium of sculpture to fully take over my energies."

Some of the works on display:

(L-R) Yabyum,1983; Hermaphroditic Humunculus, 1983 & Vesta, 1996

Hermaphroditic Humunculus (1983) is a large arch that depicts the neurological map of the areas and proportions of the brain responsible for motor functions of the body.

Vesta (1996) represents a young pregnant woman, breasts engorged, and ready for motherhood. Her right hand touches her nipple, squeezing a few drops of milk. Her left hand is extended in an open palm gesture of generosity. On her back is a monitor lizard, a symbol of fertility.

Haliya Bathing, 1983

Part of the first Inscape exhibit in 1983, Temple to the Moon Goddess, Haliya Bathing depicts Haliya, a goddess of the moon in the myths of precolonial Ibalon or today's Bicol region, who would visit the earth and bathe in its waters. She lies on a bed of crushed white marbles; knees raised and spread apart, her right hand touching her enlarged womb. The soothing white stones, raked and rippled like gentle waves, almost engulf her face.

Obelisk, 1990

Obelisk (1990) is a monument to death, made up of densely packed skulls and bones, a reminder that life is short and brutish. It echoes the Ifugao burial caves or the Catacombs of Paris, underground ossuaries holding the remains of millions.

Carcass-Cornucopia, 1987

From Inscape 2 (Myths of Creation and Destruction 1), Carcass-Cornucopia (1987) shows a headless female body with hooves instead of feet, hanging upside down from slaughterhouse hooks. Her stomach is ripped open showing a small bulol, the rice god of the Ifugaos, with oval balls spilling to the ground. A mound of unhusked rice is strewn around. From death, a new life arises.

Eshu (1997) the "Lord of the Crossroads," was created for the Sixth Biennial of Havana — the mediator between men and gods. With two pairs of feet and three hands, he holds a trident, a cigar, and a wine bottle.

The Artist and the Cycle of Duality

Arellano finished two degrees from the University of the Philippines, Diliman: psychology and fine arts, major in sculpture, 1984-1990. She received the Thirteen Artists Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1988. Losing both parents and a sister in a 1981 fire that burned down their ancestral home remains an enduring influence in her work. Amidst the whys of existence, her search for answers continues.

Duality reigns in Arellano's works inspired by ancient religion and myths: birth-death, creation-destruction, yin-yang, emptiness-fullness, and the sacred-profane. And the archetypal theme of the "mother goddess” or the "sacred feminine" remains a constant in her creations.

Sharply focused on the female as the source of primal energy, Arellano's work weaves the personal with the mythical. Each one is full of hidden meanings, waiting to be revealed. Certainly, the artist has her own narrative behind each work; and the viewer has a choice: to be attuned with the artist's narrative or confront each work with one's own narrative as well.

Arellano's sculptures tap into our innermost thoughts, desires, and fears with an intensity that is both erotic and spiritual. A cerebral journey it becomes for all.

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