women empowerment

Maarte, maldita, at maganda: How Jovie Galit reclaims Filipino derogatory words through art

Ysa Abad

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Maarte, maldita, at maganda: How Jovie Galit reclaims Filipino derogatory words through art
'I wanted these workshops to be spaces that validate our experiences as Filipinas. Those that allow us to have that sense of power and safety over our own identity,' says Jovie.

Mataba. Malandi. Mataray. Bruha. Suplada. Nagmamagaling. Ambisyosa. Walang utang na loob. Walang hiya. 

For many Filipino women, hearing these words have been a staple of their daily lives. These hurtful remarks, may it be from relatives and friends to acquaintances and strangers, have been used to shame, scrutinize, and put them down. Given the constant exposure and association to these words, it’s unsurprising how many Filipino women are left insecure and traumatized. 

But Canada-based Filipina hand lettering artist and entrepreneur Jovie Galit aims to turn the pain from these remarks into power with her “Maarte, Maldita, Maganda” calligraphy workshops and clothing brand Pinay Collection. Through these projects, Jovie helps other Filipina women address the impact of these hurtful words and heal from it by defining these derogatory remarks into their own terms. 

Jovie’s own journey of defining her identity

Born and raised in Nueva Ecija, Philippines, Jovie moved to Canada in 2011. Together with her mom who’s working as a migrant worker, they settled in a small rural town in Ontario. In a chat with Rappler, she recalled that she once looked at the town’s census in 2015 and found out that there were only 20 Filipinos living there. 

“The lack of representation of my culture and the lack of community presence during this time has really made an impact on me,” she said. 

“I felt isolated, lonely, and anxious. For the first few months, I was fearful of riding the bus as a newcomer as I didn’t know how to pay or where to sit. I used skin whitening products in the middle of winter just to ‘fit in’ and not look ‘too brown.’ Not having a deep sense of belonging really made me repress my identity and culture just because I’m tired of being the odd person out.”  

Thankfully, Jovie found a Filipino community who easily welcomed her when she moved towns.

“My healing has definitely come a long way and I attribute this to my community. It’s within them that I found a sense of validation, safety, and belonging,” she said. 

Despite the bigger circle, she, as most immigrants, still struggled on defining what it means to be a Filipino or if she’s Filipino enough. Her personal experience with diaspora then pushed Jovie to pursue a degree in Psychology, a postgraduate diploma in Social Services, with certification on Transformative Mediation, and enter the field of social and community work. 

Doing calligraphy, she said, was supposed to be just a hobby outside of her studies and work. But little did Jovie know that it would also help her come to terms with her identity. 

She shared that she wanted to practice with Filipino words when she was starting with calligraphy. And when she was thinking of Filipino words that others often associated with her, she came up with “maarte” and “suplada.” 

I was often called maarte for being outspoken about my feelings. I’ve always been vulnerable and in touch with my emotions, including the not so great ones. I remember expressing my sadness, anxieties, pain, and other people would call me maarte for that. I’ve always found it odd that women get villainized for speaking up about their struggles and realities, whereas men are admired for being vulnerable,” she shared. 

Jovie added: “I also remember reflecting on words like suplada. It reminded me of my experiences back in my hometown where I would get catcalled in the street. Whenever I’d refuse to acknowledge or look at the person catcalling me, they’d often yell ‘Ang suplada naman’ at me. As if being violated publicly is not enough, they have to make it seem like you’re ungrateful for not receiving the attention they’re giving you.” 

It was in these moments where Jovie discovered that the act of language reclamation through art can be healing. “I realized that the fact that I am mindfully creating art out of the words that haunted and pained me for the longest time felt so empowering,” she said. 

“I never really thought of the impacts of these words on me, my upbringing, and the way I show up for other people until I actually slowed down and started engaging in this journey of making calligraphy out of these words.” 

Reclaiming and healing through art

When she first launched the “Maarte, Maldita, Maganda” calligraphy workshops in Canada in 2018, Jovie was surprised at the attendees’ reception. 

Initially, she was worried as to how the public would perceive the use of derogatory words in a hand-lettering practice that’s known for being pretty and aesthetically-pleasing. Even now, she shared that there’s some who’s not open and accepting of how they deal with experiences that are rooted in pain and discomfort. 

But the entrepreneur chalked up the initial positive results to how her community in Canada was already welcoming to begin with.

“It’s within them that I found a sense of validation, safety, and belonging. And it’s having a sense of belonging that I found my voice, confidence, and ability to take care of others, and most importantly, the courage to break grounds,” she said. “This work was and continues to be informed by the loving and caring Filipino community that I have now and continue to build this work with.”

It is also the kind of safe and supportive environment that she’d like to promote in her “Maarte, Maldita, Maganda” calligraphy workshops. During these sessions, Jovie guides the attendees on the introduction about calligraphy – complete with individual worksheets and pens. And once the attendees get the hang of the basics of calligraphy, they’ll be asked to make a calligraphy of the Filipino derogatory words that they’d like to reclaim. 

“I wanted these workshops to be spaces that validate our experiences as Filipinas. Those that allow us to have that sense of power and safety over our own identity, and most importantly, the type of platforms that radiate a sense of belonging over our shared struggles and experiences,” she said. 

Recognizing how sensitive these discussions can be, Jovie shared that her educational and career background have helped her in navigating these situations.

“Having lots of experience listening and understanding the needs of the marginalized while unpacking ways to empower people’s rights, joy, and being has definitely helped me build and execute the vision for this workshop,” she said.

Since launching the “Maarte, Maldita, Maganda” project, Jovie has hosted 15 workshops across Canada, United States, Netherlands, and the Philippines. Some face-to-face, while others were through virtual sessions. But whether online or in-person, Jovie said that she’s always mindful of knowing how comfortable the attendees are in speaking up and being vulnerable with strangers. 

“It’s not always that people share during these sessions. I’ve had workshops where people are understandably quiet and hesitant to share at all. But this is what working with our traumas look like. And whether people share their stories or not, the fact that they show up in these workshops is already a sign that people resonate with what they’re trying to do,” she said. 

In her workshops, Jovie noticed that the words maarte, maitim/morena, bruha, mataba/tumaba, walang hiya, ambisyosa, matapang, and palaban are the most common.

“It signifies the unrealistic and colonized beauty standards in our society, and how we often villainize women who are strong, independent, firm, and outspoken. Just because they don’t fit the standards or ‘checklist’ of what we think Filipina women should be – modest, obedient, docile, and gentle,” she said. 

Hearing the experiences of her attendees and even forming friendships with them made Jovie realize how conversations and spaces like these are not only relevant, but also empowering.

“They provide a platform for open dialogue, healing, and support, allowing us to reclaim our voices and challenge the harmful language and attitudes that perpetuate in our systems,” she said. 

Outside of these calligraphy workshops, Jovie also launched the Pinay collection fashion brand wherein these Filipino words are found in pieces of clothing, accessories, and merchandise. Wearing these words with pride, she said, is another way of encouraging Filipinos to be bold and unapologetically themselves. 

As for her future plans, Jovie shared that she’d like to bring the “Maarte, Maldita, Maganda” calligraphy workshops to other cities and provinces in the United States, Canada, and the Philippines. – Rappler.com

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