Updated: March 21, 2023, 7:22 A.M.
(Editor’s note: Consistent with the Philippines’ centrist structure, well-known artists come from the centre – Manila. Very few from the south are recognized much less, women artists. Artists like Martino Abellana and Romulo Galicano from Cebu, Bert Monterona, a Lumad from Mindanao are but a few that doesn’t come from Manila. It is fitting that at the close of International Women’s Day this month, we feature among the best – Julie Lluch.)
Art as activism..
by Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen
Last week, Julie sent me on Messenger the poster of her latest art exhibition. As in her previous invites, I am unable to attend this key event in the Manila art scene being away from the country. But I treasure any little exchange with Julie because it means I am in the ambit of her universe.
Writer, mother, renowned sculptor, feminist, mentor….these are but few of the words writers have used to describe Julie Lluch since the Iligan-born artist burst into the national scene when she held her first art exhibit in 1977 in Manila. The self-taught Lluch was born on March 5, 1946 and is considered one of the foremost living sculptors of the Philippines.
Julie is an acknowledged major contemporary exponent of clay and terracotta. The past thirty years or so have seen her body of work grow not only exponentially but also in complexity. She has progressed from small ceramic pieces to commissioned larger-than-life-size bronze and stone sculpture of famous and historical figures that grace important edifices or locales in Manila.
I first met Julie in the mid-1980s in Iligan when her late father Pacificador A. Lluch, Sr., was mayor of the city. There was a gathering of the local culturati for Julie’s art presentation at the MSU-Illigan Institute of Technology where I was professor at the time.
The presentation was done in the ancient technology of a slides projector . I believe this was the eye-catching, if provocative, ‘Bleeding Hearts’ series. The sensual and feminist undertones of the subject works were not lost on me and I shared my observation with the artist to whom I was introduced at the end of the presentation. Thus began my friendship with Julie.
Since that time, Julie had gone global, participating in international exhibits (the Singapore National Museum is among her collectors). She has also received various awards and citations for her work and civic engagement. No less than the Cultural Center of the Philippines had hosted a retrospective exhibit of Julie’s works in 2008. Other awards include the Outstanding Citizenship in Art from the City of Iligan (1992), the Most Outstanding Woman Artist from the City of Quezon City (1995), and the Sining at Kalinangan Award sa Araw ng Maynila from the City of Manila (1997). Since her first exhibition in 1977, her works have been exhibited in the Philippines and abroad. Most notably, her sculptures have been presented at the 3rd Asian Art Show at the Asian Art Museum in Fukuoka, Japan in 1989; at the First Asia-Pacific Triennial at Queensland Art Gallery in 1993; and at the exhibition on Asian modernism organized by the Japan Foundation and presented in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines in 1995.
“Chronicles on Skin” and the War on Dugs
This week in Manila, Julie Lluch returns to Galerie Stephanie for the exhibit of (18) sculptures titled “Chronicles on Skin”. This series further crowds an already formidable ouvre. The sculptor tells me the war on drugs (like in her previous shows, she adds) is the running leitmotif of the exhibit, utilizing tattoo motifs and the recurring image of Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” a version of which she had executed in sculpture earlier.
Julie confesses acrylic on marble is her biggest creative challenge yet so far. In a recent interview for Vera Files with Elizabeth Lolarga, she admits: ““The idea of something new, something I haven’t tried before like painting on sculpture, challenged me, but I did not foresee the difficulty that lay ahead.”
A consummate artist Julie truly is. Yet, in the process, the activist-as-artist has hurdled a different – perhaps greater challenge. In the Vera Files interview Julie continues: “……the thought of actually engaging in activist work, being allied with the people’s movement that seeks redress and justice for the victims of state-sponsored killings goaded me on, even if I’m outside of the actual movement. I have always wanted to be part of it, but being senior, I can’t wave flags and carry banners or march in the sun anymore.” It is for this reason that I dare add to Julie’s string of accolades and attributes – “conscientious citizen and nationalist”.
The message of “Chronicles on Skin” is clear: life is sacred, the body beautiful. The unjust bloodletting of the war on drugs goes against the grain of civilized society. Not everyone has the gift of art and the grace to use it for lofty aspirations. For this alone I doff my hat to you, Julie. We shall yet drink that glass of bubbly at our next soiree.
About Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen
Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen obtained bachelor’s degree in History-Political Science at De la Salle University, Manila. He took graduate courses in History and International Relations as scholar of Rotary Foundation at the University of Toronto. Former Chair, Dept. of Political Science, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, he recently retired from government service with the City of Toronto and writes as freelancer. He recently returned from several months vacation in the Philippines.