Filipino artists

‘Moving us to hope and act’: A review of Imelda Cajipe Endaya’s ‘Pagtutol at Pag-Asa’ at CCP

Alice Sarmiento

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‘Moving us to hope and act’: A review of Imelda Cajipe Endaya’s ‘Pagtutol at Pag-Asa’ at CCP
'Cajipe Endaya and the curators frame this retrospective as a form of protest in itself – a deeply necessary critique of the CCP as a historically burgis institution'

The work of artist Imelda Cajipe Endaya is deeply informed by her advocacies and community-based work. Born in Manila in 1949, just after the Second World War that brought the country to its knees, Cajipe Endaya came of age through multiple, often overlapping crises and periods of upheaval. Her reckoning with these moments is evident in the over 200 pieces currently on display at the Cultural Center of the Philippines as part of Pagtutol and Pag-Asa a retrospective celebrating nearly 50 years of her artmaking, organizing, and advocacy.

Internationally recognized as one of the region’s most prominent feminist artists, Cajipe Endaya has sustained a practice that is, according to critic Alice Guillermo, “firmly situated within the coordinates of Philippine society and history.” In 1987, she co-founded Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan, better known as KASIBULAN, a feminist art collective which includes Julie Lluch, Brenda Fajardo, and Anna Fer – names which have since gained prominence in the arts, academe, and activist circles. Through this sisterhood, Cajipe Endaya nurtured advocacy as a creative and collective pursuit for a number of Filipina artists.

The title Pagtutol at Pag-asa is a nod to her own contributions as an artist and feminist. Translated by curators Lara Acuin and Con Cabrera as “refusal and hope,” the exhibition posits art-making as a lateral commitment to defiance. While Cajipe Endaya herself fleshes this out early on in a 1988 essay in Kultura magazine, she also attributes this refusal to Dolores Feria, a literature professor at the University of the Philippines who was imprisoned for her sharp criticism of the first Marcos regime. 

Feria’s concept, described in her 1978 essay The Third World: The Literature of Refusal, rejects the aesthetics of the privileged classes, who are able to read and write poetry and novels without worrying about hunger or homelessness. Feria characterizes these privileged artists as the types who will dismiss creative forms of protest and progressive art-making as mere propaganda. By referring to Feria’s work, Cajipe Endaya and the curators frame this retrospective as a form of protest in itself – a deeply necessary critique of the CCP as a historically burgis institution before the center closes its doors for renovation from 2023 to the end of 2024.  

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What then is being refused?

The exhibition begins right outside the Bulwagang Juan Luna, or CCP’s Main Gallery, with the two pasilyos hung with paintings and prints from the late ’80s. The painting wall, also called the bintana wall, contains a series of large-scale paintings made between 1981 and 1985. As a metaphor for womanhood, the window illustrates the separation between women and the rest of the world, showing lives confined to domestic space wherein women are cast as mere observers rather than participants in the public sphere.

The 1985 bintana work hanging closest to the exhibition entrance shows two women gazing out from behind layers of lace and fabric. This is followed by a series of works showing different women in 19th century dress, with some bearing references to the roles women played in Philippine pop culture, often accompanied by unsettling formless creatures.

The way Acuin and Cabrera chose to hang Cajipe Endaya’s work is particularly striking: in curating this retrospective, the two departed from telling the artist’s story chronologically, departing from the notion of a retrospective as a grand narrative. Instead, they built a thematic structure that accommodates the disruptions, pauses, and overlaps that better characterize the life of a feminist artist and organizer. 

This has its disadvantages. While it foregrounds the artist’s concerns, it also risks appearing redundant, where certain subjects and works pop up repeatedly across seemingly disparate sections in the exhibition. The bintana paintings, for instance, resonate and repeat in other sections, if not through their subject matter, then through the mixed media Cajipe Endaya is known for. 

While the porousness between the sections of Endaya’s retrospective might seem confusing, even messy at first glance, there is nothing disingenuous about the story of struggle softened by care and collectivity that it tells. By refusing categorical arrangement, the exhibition speaks of how progress – and the attendant activism and dissent which make it possible – is neither clear-cut nor linear.  As they walked us through the sections of the Main Gallery, Acuin pointed out how they even rounded the edges on the exhibition panels from which a few of Cajipe Endaya’s works hung.  

Cajipe Endaya’s choice to work with two curators is also commendable: it underscores just how much she values the role of conversations in art and, by extension, exhibition-making. The move is consistent with her preferred method of doing research, which involves immersing in communities and listening to those with most at stake. 

One bintana painting from 1981 features a man in military uniform lurking by the proverbial window. The lower half is inscribed with the words “Dedicated to my children,” with the bombs and satellites painted above its subjects against a vermillion ground lending this inscription a foreboding air. 

Despite its seeming singularity in focus, the bintana wall shows the breadth and depth of Cajipe Endaya’s concerns, evoking a feminism of particular significance to Philippine history – which should go without saying is a feminism that continues to resonate into the current moment. Whoever the work might be dedicated to is beside the point: in a world compromised by the violence of modern life, our precarity can only be addressed by accepting our interdependency and acting collectively. 

Stitching paint into collage

The titular refusal is just as apparent in her use of texture to take up space and evade categories. Were these collages or assemblages? Multimedia or mixed media? This was further complicated by the introduction of soft and organic materials into both wall-bound and installative pieces. 

Throughout the exhibition, quilts and lace are stripped of their softness, forced into submission using paint and lacquer. Industrial materials and plastics on the other hand are treated delicately and carefully stitched through other works as lovely gossamer threads. To accommodate this practice, the artist coined the phrase “stitching paint into collage” (which was also the title of an essay collection published in 2009). 

Cajipe Endaya however is better known for her printmaking practice, with the print wall encapsulating the aesthetic borne of the mix of collage and printmaking techniques that went into this body of work. By using such classical Filipino texts as the Boxer Codex, Doctrina Cristiana, and textbooks drawn from the legacy of a colonized education system, Cajipe Endaya’s use of printmaking techniques to critique the imperialist aims of print media is on full display here.

It must also be pointed out that there was no shortage at the time of funding and space for artists to practice and produce. The dates on Cajipe Endaya’s works, many of which were created at the height of the Marcos regime, coincided with the Marcos couple’s World Bank-funded edifice complex, which led to the construction of a number of massive hotels, and with them countless lobbies to decorate and commissioned murals to shift the narrative to favor those in power. 

Cajipe Endaya understood that while these walls made art-making and its display possible, walls were ultimately meant to be taken down if a more meaningful and inclusive progress were to be pursued. This shows in the modularity and portability of most of her pieces, most evidently in the DH series, which uses suitcases to frame the work’s installative elements. 

This belief is also evident in her writings, excerpts from which appear as handpainted quotes on the walls, marking off sections and highlighting subjects. One particularly striking quote reads: “The revolutionary spirit is deeply ingrained in the native woman’s consciousness.” It complements the installation Kapatiran ng mga Lakambining Maybahay Redux, which resembles a life-sized ouija board, and was recreated in collaboration with artist Auggie Fontanilla and artist-curator Cabrera.

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Slow, quiet, but persistent

Endaya’s prolific production and continued insistence on refusal through collaboration and collectivity are consistent with her rejection of the state-sponsored commissions of her time – commissions that an artist of her stature could have easily exploited. In Cajipe Endaya’s decades of work, we are shown just how art might be practiced politically: as a means to question not only who we work for, but who our work is for, and to clarify what we are working towards.

This brings us to the second part of the exhibition’s title: pag-asa, or hope, which is just as potent a force in its framing. For this, curators Acuin and Cabrera refer to Caracol, or snail, a previous show of Cajipe Endaya. The snail is a metaphor, she writes, ”slow, quiet, but persistent…the snail is moving us to hope and act.” 

The text recalls generations of feminists and revolutionaries before Cajipe Endaya, among them Salud Algabre, who was recently referenced in another major exhibition of contemporary art: “No uprising fails. Each one is a step in the right direction. In a long march to final victory, every step counts, every individual matters, every organization forms part of the whole.”

Pagtutol at Pag-Asa: Isang Retrospective runs from September 3 to December 4 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In line with Cajipe Endaya’s practice of remaining present within her community, the CCP will be hosting a public program for the exhibition. On September 24 at 3 pm, everyone is invited to join the artist and the curators in a conversation not only about the refusal shown in the retrospective, but the hope that moves us to act collectively. –

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Alice Sarmiento

Alice Sarmiento is an animal welfare advocate and feminist with a practice in writing, art criticism, and curation.