writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gypsy Tales

January-February 2008 issue of Preview: Feature on Wawi Navarroza!

Photography-based artist Wawi Navarroza specifically chose to have her portrait done by an old Banyan tree at Arroceros Forest Park, Manila. The reason? “because the Trees Know,” says Wawi, asserting she wants to bring attention to the environment. She admittedly adds, “I'm a geeky treehugger.”

This may seem incompatible with the Wawi Navarroza a lot of people know. This is after all the lead singer of indie goth rock band The Late Isabel, the artist herself usually clad in dark colors on her petite frame, her works often black and white with the air of the mystic. A geeky treehugger…really? But then again being an environmentalist does fit nicely in the person that is Wawi. Say Wawi, “It's radical to go against the grain, against the monolithic dominance of oil, and yes, the general apathy. It's very rock and roll to come out and rally for trees, to rebel from smog and plastic.”

If there is one thing that describes Wawi, it’s surely “radical.” Wawi is one of the few visual artists in the Philippines working primarily with photography as a medium, pressing for photography-based art to be seen as a fine art form. In
an interview with the Russian press, Wawi articulated the struggle for working with the medium. “I am sure as rain that art-photography/fine art photography enjoys more popularity and appreciation in the West. Here in the Philippines, of course as a developing country, I think (and I may be wrong) that art-photography/fine art photography has not been quite included in the cannon of ‘High Art’… the majority think that beautiful pictures such as perfect sunsets, landscapes, photos done skillfully are called ‘fine art photographs’ but I don't know. Personally, I think we should raise the bar for what is ‘fine art’ or more appropriately when is fine art?"

Wawi’s own path to the fine arts was weaved during her communication arts studies in La Salle where she did a degree specialization in photography, graduating in 2002. It was there where she was mentored by Judy Sibayan, teacher, curator and contemporary artist, to whom Wawi is grateful for. “More than the techniques (which you can study straight from books), she taught me integral lessons that focused and sharpened my creative vision. She taught me to figure out ‘what I want to say’ and how to tell it: Storytelling.” Lessons in communication/art theory, philosophies, ideologies and psychology also informed Wawi during this time, giving her a better understanding of her work in the scheme of things.

Wawi’s work prevalently deals with
archetypes, time, memory, maybes, an interior point of view, duality, myth, mysteries, secrets, the imagination and the sublime or as Wawi puts it, “the poetry of experience." Indeed her pieces are like fantastic sequences probing into a familiar daydream with each work offering a searing symbolic insight into an imagined reality. The common linkage of each artwork? Wawi. “Whether what I do is personal (internal) or social (external), it's still from the same eye. My photography can be diverse but there's a red thread running through it. It all tries to map out the Self."

Certainly, Wawi’s photographs act as self-portraits even without being self-portraits themselves. They storytell about human experience, particularly the artist’s own. Yet, a picture of Wawi expands beyond her photography-based art. Asides from The Late Isabel, Wawi is also part of Romancing Venus, a collective of women founded by Kooky Tuason who do live reading/performing of original poetry/spoken word to the public with regular gigs about town. She also explores movement and space through performance art and collaborates with various personalities in the arts for different projects. Asides from this, she travels by herself, exploring other cultures of the world. “Some think of me as some sort of gypsy/pirate/wanderer,” tells Wawi.

So what is this gypsy up to next? This January, she’ll be heading to Singapore to work on a project during her Ateneo Art Gallery-Artesan Gallery residency there. She’s also hoping to hold another solo exhibition this year, perhaps exploring the theme of relationships. And, of course, do something on the environment. Yet, there’s really no limit to what Wawi will be doing in the future. She says about her travels, “My compass pointing to all directions. Every place an odd-venture." Just like the artist who continually pushes into new frontiers.

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