Alma Quinto: The artist as cultural healer

Rina Angela Corpus

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Artist Alma Quinto uses art to heal and empower others

ARTIST FOR CHANGE. Alma Quinto uses her art for community empowerment. All photos courtesy of Alma Quinto

MANILA, Philippines – Alma “Urduja” Quinto is a visual artist, educator, and cultural worker who creates art as a form of transformation and healing.

Amidst a prevailing art world that remains detached from and uninterested in social realities, Alma is a rare artist who has chosen to tread the path of social relevance with her socially committed art practice.

By seeing art as a collaboration between artist and audience and not merely an object or artifact for decoration and display, Alma imbues meaning into works she creates by appropriating the feminine medium of cloth and the marginal craft of sewing.

Her soft sculptures become dolls and tent houses that give comfort and hope to the marginalized communities she has worked with since 1993.

Life of art

MAKING ART TOGETHER. Participants create works of art at the House of Comfort exhibit and workshop in 2008

Born in 1961, Alma has created art that is inspired by her work with children survivors at CRIBS Foundation, Bantay Bata, women migrant workers, Japanese-Filipino children, women laborers, differently-abled and street children, Moro women, peace journalists, orphans, prostitutes, Bicol evacuees, and other participants of her art workshops in various museums, academic institutions and communities all over the Philippines.

Alma’s vision of art as a tool for empowering downtrodden lives and healing broken dreams is at the heart of the transformation that she has seen in her own life and in others she has worked with.

One of her most recent collaborative works is the House of Comfort Art Project which is currently being built from one local community to another as she and her group of cultural workers touch base with women and children who participate by stitching their quilts of dreams.

BODY OF ART. Quinto leads the creation of an urban art installation in a pond

It is envisioned as a “collapsible, modular, easy-to-install structure with a roof, walls, windows, doors, kitchen, dining room, comfort room, a sala, very much like a real house, but where each element of the house will represent a participant’s life.”

A native of Pangasinan province in Central Luzon, Philippines, Alma takes inspiration from feminine heroes of her culture such as Prinsesa Urduja and the ancient babaylan (priestess) whose images we can see in most of her works.

READ: In the presence of a Babaylan

But more than taking personal strength from the heroines of Philippine culture, Alma finds greater inspiration in being able to share her skills to build on the dreams of women and children, “I look at art not as a career but as a spiritual expression. Art should bring out what is innately beautiful, especially to those who are hopeless.”

Art for empowerment

BEAUTY IN SMALL THINGS. This Quinto art work is called 'Rabiha Bakwit'

While representing the Philippines in various biennial and triennial exhibitions overseas, Alma remains grounded enough not to use art for personal gain but to heal and empower the lives of many others in her midst.   

“I encourage children to discover what is innately good in them through the arts. They want to feel loved because they have been abused.

“The arts are non-confrontational. It is beautiful, so it is more effective than academic learning. It makes children strong to confront their trauma and build their lives again.”

Alma has served as president of KASIBULAN (Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan or Women in Art and Emerging Consciousness), a group of women artists advocating women’s empowerment through the arts.

She also previously headed the Philippine Art Educators Association (PAEA), a collective of art educators committed to promote art education based on Philippine art perspectives.

Alma graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines where she later took courses in art history and studio arts.

Amidst the globalization of the arts as mere objects for entertainment and consumption, Alma ushers us to an alternate route of art-making: by bringing it back to communities of people who can use it to revive the beauty innate in the everyday and in our very selves. –

(Rina Angela Corpus is an assistant professor of Art Studies at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines. She survived Sandy while on special detail in New York in October 2012. She practices the healing arts of shibashi-chigong and Raja Yoga meditation. Her poems have been featured in Mad Swirl, Philippine Collegian, Philippines Free Press, and Tayo Literary Magazine.)

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