Philippine arts

Channeling intense emotions with Filipina artist Laki Mata

Juno Reyes

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Channeling intense emotions with Filipina artist Laki Mata

Laki Mata

'I'm painting a world where emotions, vulnerability, and feelings exist,' Laki Mata says

MANILA, Philippines – During her childhood, Filipina artist Laki Mata was always surrounded by art. Her father – a puppet and mascot maker – would regularly hold art workshops during the summer, and she would sit in and follow along with whatever he was teaching his students. It was only natural, then, that she would later grow up to be an artist herself. 

MEET THE ARTIST. Laki Mata, the Filipina artist behind the big-eyed, naked female character often painted in different shades of pink. Photo courtesy of Laki Mata

Determined to act on her affinity for art, Laki Mata took up Fine Arts in college. But she found herself unsatisfied with the type of work she was doing in the classroom. 

‘Yung practice doon, mataas ‘yung standards. Kailangan mala-Picasso or realist. Pagdadaanan mo ‘yung steps na ‘yun e, so nagco-comply ako doon. Pero hindi ako satisfied sa mga ginagawa ko, kaya doon nadevelop si Laki Mata, she said. 

(The standards were high in the [Fine Arts] practice. Your art had to either be similar to Picasso’s or be realist. You’ll be made to go through those steps, so I complied. But I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing, so that’s how Laki Mata was developed.) 

Besides now being her artist name, Laki Mata is known as the big-eyed, nude female character that is always painted with different shades of pink. 

The making of the character Laki Mata

The character Laki Mata – which translates to “big eyes” in English – was inspired by the artist’s younger sister named Baburoo. 

Kaya gano’n ‘yung art style [ni Laki Mata] kasi [nung] high school ako, nagkaroon ng baby ‘yung mama ko. Bunso namin siya. Ang pangalan niya Baburoo. Nung college ako, ‘yung drawings ko, Baburoo ang tawag nila kasi ‘yung kapatid ko na ‘yun, ang laki-laki ng mata niya! Laki Mata explained, smiling as she recalled her character’s origins. 

(The reason why Laki Mata’s art style is the way it is is because my mom had a baby when I was in high school. She’s our youngest, and her name is Baburoo. When I was in college, people would call my drawings Baburoo because she had such big eyes!) 

Beyond Laki Mata’s remarkably big eyes and notable pink hues, however, the character being fully naked tells a deeper story of its own. 

I’m painting a world where emotions, vulnerability, and feelings exist. For me, kaya wala silang damit kasi ‘yun ‘yung nag-ga-ground sa atin sa reality. Paano ba mag-paint ng titser? Naka-uniform. Paano mo ipapakita na bata siya? Naka-baby doll dress ba siya? So, sa akin, hinubaran ko ‘yung character para maipakita ko kung sino talaga siya, Laki Mata explained. 

(For me, the reason why they’re naked is because clothes are what ground us in reality. How do you paint a teacher? In uniform. How do you show that someone’s a child? Do you put them in a baby doll dress? So, for me, I strip my character of its clothing to show who she really is.) 

Being in a conservative country like the Philippines, however, it’s always been a common occurrence for the young artist to receive flak for her work. During her past art market stints, she would even get told that she should not be allowed to sell her work there because her character’s breasts were visible. 

Nevertheless, Laki Mata stands her ground. She is well aware of the intentions behind her art anyway, so she merely brushes off these comments whenever they come her way. 

Normalizing emotions

Browsing through Laki Mata’s paintings, it’s easy to see that the character channels a wide range of emotions each time – including the ones that are often frowned upon when it’s a woman displaying them. 

It’s common for women to be made to suppress their emotions out of fear of appearing “unladylike.” And so, when a woman expresses rage or sadness, she is often met with looks of pure judgment. 

For Laki Mata, who takes inspiration from strong female creatives like Frida Kahlo and Soraya Chemaly, it’s the same in the realm of art, where the presence of intense emotions in paintings is outwardly looked down upon. 

Sa art scene natin, takot tayong idiscuss ‘yun dahil maaaring masyado siyang focused sa female e. [Sinasabi nila]: ‘Paano ‘yan bibilhin ng iba? Hindi siya pangbenta kasi ‘pag ididisplay ko ‘yan, galit, parang malas,'” Laki Mata shared. 

(In our art scene, we’re scared to discuss that because it’s too focused on females. They would say: “How could anyone buy that? This can’t be sold because when it’s displayed, it seems angry, like it’s bad luck.”) 

But Laki Mata is here to challenge that. Through her work, she shows that there’s nothing wrong with feeling the way we feel. After all, it is our emotions that make us human. 

As females, ‘di ba nahubog tayo sa world na ang mga emosyon natin ay dapat isinasantabi. Kapag nilabas mo ‘yan, magiging uncomfortable ‘yung nasa paligid natin, so dapat tinatago ‘yan. Pero ‘yung totoo, natatakot lang sila at nile-label-an nila ‘yung mga gano’ng bagay to control us,” she said. 

(As females, we were born into a world where we are taught to suppress our emotions. When you express them, the people around you will get uncomfortable, so you have to hide them. But in reality, they’re just scared, so they label things like that to control us.) 

Laki Mata’s two solo exhibits “Soft Pink Feelings” and “She Rage” are testaments to these sentiments. 

“Soft Pink Feelingstakes on her theory that we were once all emotionless celestial beings made to go down to earth to experience all these different emotions in a blip – and it’s up to you if you’ll agree to it. The paintings from this collection depict Laki Mata doing what she can to get through these feelings, like hugging a teddy bear or drinking alcohol throughout her fits of sadness, and wielding a knife as she navigates her anger.

Ikaw na pumayag, ito ‘yung emotions, hindi ka makakapili diyan e – dadaanan mo ‘yan. Pero hindi ikaw ‘yung emotions mo, dumadaan lang siya, kasi ‘yun ‘yung nararamdaman mo,” she explained.

(You agreed, so these are the emotions, but you won’t be able to choose which ones you’ll feel – you’ll go through them. But you aren’t your emotions, they’re just passing by, because that’s what you’re feeling.) 

The concept behind “She Rage” then stemmed from Laki Mata’s idea from “Soft Pink Feelings” that we feel certain emotions – like rage – intensely. 

Minsan, sinasabihan tayo na parang monstrous ‘yun at masama ilabas ‘yung gano’ng mga emotion (Sometimes, we’re told that it’s monstrous and bad to express these emotions),” Laki Mata said. 

And that’s exactly what the pieces included in She Rage” attempt to fight against. In these paintings, Laki Mata takes ownership of her rage and acts on it – even if it means being met with disapproval from those around her.

And so, while Laki Mata started as a way for the artist to chart her life from girlhood to womanhood, it has aptly transformed into a symbol of comfort for all women.

Sobrang lawak na ng mundo ni Laki Mata. It represents all girls na. Hindi lang story ko ‘yung nate-tell ko, pati na rin ‘yung mga nakikita ko, mga na-o-observe ko, pati ‘yung mga nakukuwento sa akin (Laki Mata’s world is so big now. It represents all girls already. It is no longer just my story I’m telling now but also those of what I see, what I observe, and what is shared with me),” Laki Mata stated. –

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Juno Reyes

Juno Reyes is a Life & Style and Entertainment multimedia reporter covering local music and art.