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How Cebu artist Alyssa Selanova rediscovered artistry during the pandemic

While most of us were flipping through childhood photos and learning new internet dances during quarantine, Cebu artist Alyssa Selanova spent her days in isolation rediscovering her passion for visual art and figuring out what exactly she wanted to say.

The 22-year-old artist snagged a job as an assistant gallerist at 856-G Gallery, among the prominent art galleries in Cebu, mere weeks after graduating cum laude with a Fine Arts degree from the University of the Philippines Cebu in 2019.

Prior to graduating, Selanova had just pulled off her first solo exhibition Anno Domini, a collection of abstract paintings which illustrated her inner dialogue on faith.

"I take pleasure in experimenting different materials and technique in doing my abstract expressionist works. Smeared or splashes of colors, thick or thin strokes, dark or light values, shades of colors, large or small in size, fabric, plexiglass, wood, or canvas, that's what I normally play around to create forms that harken back to the original meaning of the word 'medium,' a word that used to connote the presence of the Spirit," Alyssa said, describing her art style.

Stepping back from artistry

However, the abstract expressionist said that during her first year off of school – burnt out from plate deadlines and a routine of constantly having to create – it was in helping other artists pull off shows where she discovered a new vigor.

"I occupied myself over organizing different art exhibitions and fairs, curating, doing visual productions, selling and archiving artworks from different artists. Even when I was still taking my undergraduate in UP Cebu, my life was already revolving around gallery works," she said.

"I basically fell in love with it more than being an artist," she added.

During this short hiatus from painting, Alyssa immersed in the existing art scene in Cebu, and made connections with artists she admired from afar as a student.

In a little over a year, Selanova had taken part in big art fairs known not only in Cebu but the rest of the country, such as the 2019 Túbo Art Fair in Cebu and the 2020 Art Fair Philippines in Manila.

Before the pandemic, she was also set to take part in Art Dubai and four more international art fairs.

Taken during Art Fair Philippines

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Selanova

Taken during the Túbo Art Fair

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Selanova


When quarantine restrictions began and art events started being cancelled during the early parts of 2020, Alyssa – whose life used to revolve around bringing people together and closer to art – had no choice but to step back.

First, in an effort to cope with the sudden suspension of all events that were supposed to be lined up for her the entire year. And second, to rediscover her artistry.

"I felt this longing and sensation of how great it was to be immersed with the process of making an artwork – the frustration of how to start or end a painting, the struggle of what colors to use, how thin or thick the strokes should be, vertical or horizontal; I just missed the vulnerability, the intimacy, internal satisfaction and beauty of creating something from nothing," she said.

"The pandemic didn't change me. Rather, it reminded me of who I really was before I became a curator and assistant gallerist," she added.

And so she began to experiment once again.

'THE LOVE WHO SURROUNDS.' The painting is a part of Alyssa's first solo exhibition 'Anno Domini.'

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Selanova

Like most of us, Alyssa spent considerably more time on the internet during isolation. This was when she bumped into a video of an artist talking about monobloc painting and became inspired to rekindle what she’s put in the corner for over a year.

"As you can see, experimentation does not only cost you money but also does take up a lot of your time. The pandemic actually, for me, is somehow a blessing in disguise. It did not only help me reconcile with my artistic process but it also enabled me to develop and finish my unfinished works," she said.

All the time allowed Alyssa to pour over researching concepts and theories for her next projects, the stage that takes the longest for the young artist.

"I do not exist or learn in a vacuum, there are existing ideas and visual influences that I take to account. Just like what I used to do, I always start from experimentation, research then creation," she explained.

Alyssa Selanova's shirts are handpainted and one-of-a-kind.

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Selanova

Taking on projects

As a personal project, she began by putting out customized shirts. Each shirt is one of a kind, with each design individually conceptualized and painted on by Alyssa.

It was also during the pandemic, which highlighted the disparity between the rich and the poor, and the global north and the global south, that she learned that she and her peers had a lot to say.

All the time to ruminate, new-found love for creating, and the enduring want to bolster fellow creatives eventually birthed an art initiative called South by South with Mindanao artist and curator Ninianne Sojor.

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Selanova

According to Alyssa, Ninianne and her aim to empower women artists and to "assert our own identity and our power in a constantly globalizing world."

"We formed this art initiative that aims to promote the ideas, narratives and artworks created by underrepresented individuals and communities from the so-called 'fringes,'" she explained.

"As a way to decentralize or to put to terms; decolonize from the imperialist narratives imposed upon those of the peripheries. Specifically, we aim to highlight narratives unique to women of the geographical, political and social south of the global artsphere," she added.

The project will be exhibited in collaboration with Studio One Art Gallery on March of this year. Alyssa and Ninianne will participate both as co-curators and artists. –