By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – After a successful launch of her exhibit Liwanag (light) at the Philippine Center, London-based Filipino-Spanish artist Maria Mari Murga shares her artistic jourmey to her Philippine roots.
The September 24, 2019 Liwanag opening night was attended by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, DFA Undersecretaries Enrique Manalo and Brigido Dulay who were in New York for the UN General Assembly. Mr. Henry B. Howard of the US-Philippines Society, Mr. Luca Parolari of Pintô Museum, art enthusiasts and members of the Filipino-American community in the tristate area likewise attended the opening ceremony.
“Liwanag” detailed Mari Murga’s journey to the rural parts of the Philippines, portraying Filipino farmers, fishermen and indigenous peoples going about their daily lives which she hoped will serve as a reminder of how vibrant and beautiful the Philippines is.
Her artworks used a beautiful selection of hand carved frames from Zamboanga. The exhibit, which was co-sponsored by the US Philippine Society and co-presented by the Philippine Center New York, was opened to the public until October 11, 2019.
OSM! had the chance to interview Maria Murga where we fully appreciated her journey as an artist. Excerpts:
1. Please tell is about your personal and education background. Did you have an education in the arts or was self-taught?
I was born and raised in Alicante in Spain. My mother is from Zamboanga City and my father is Spanish. I grew up surrounded by Yakan clothes, sea shells, Maranao sculptures and Filipino food at home.
I was trained as an artist in Florence, Italy, where I specialised in Renaissance painting techniques. Since 2011, I have been working as a profesional artist in London where my artwork has received recognitions from british institutions such as the Royal Society of British Artists, the De Laszlo Foundation and the Pastel Society UK. Although I hold the double nationality Filipina and Spanish, I consider myself a woman of the world.
I admire the innate elegance of Fernando Amorsolo’s artwork and his versatility. Amorsolo’s hability to paint portraits of the Filipino elite and the Filipino people in the countryside with equal grace. My artistic approach is classic and emphasizes how the light renders the subject, in some sort of a dignified way. I like to combine the solid roughness of the Filipino rural life with the fragile finesse of my craft.
2. Did you stay in Mindanao to be able to render these paintings? If so, for how long? Tell us your story.
The exhibit Liwanag: a Journey through the Philippine’s way of life” chronicles my journey for one year accross different provinces of the Philippines. Liwanag means “light”, it is a reference for the light an artist uses to render a portrait but it is also the light of knowledge, by putting a spotlight into scenes out from the shadows of the unknown.
The first impression I got when I arrived in the Philippines was the strong connection I felt with the people and the places. Born and raised in Europe, I surprisingly felt close to the Filipinos and Filipinas. Certainly the Filipino hospitality was also a factor. I spent one month in Zamboanga, with my mother, siblings and cousins. Some of the artworks inspired by that trip are “The Bath in Taluksangay Mosque” and the portrait of a woman in a leprosary entitled “Woman carrying chicken for pancit canton in Zamboanga”
I visited Baler in Aurora province three times. Following my exhibition at the Museo de Baler on the occasion of the Philippine Spanish Friendship, guided by four balereños, we trekked through the Sierra Madre mountains until we reached Dibut Bay where the Dumagat people live. I planted my camping tent by the Bay and spent a few days interacting with the Dumagat, spearfishing with the children and learning from their traditions. They have an interesting wide botanical knowledge, as they heal with plants.
I also joined the National Anti-Poverty Commission and visited fishermen communities along the western coast of Luzon. In Mindanao, I traveled in company of my cousins who spoke chavacano and visayan. This was key in order to interact with the T’boli people, as they quite often would speak Visayan.
We traveled to Sarangani and South Cotabato. Places like Lake Sebu have a mesmerizing Nature, and the T’Boli traditions hold a tremendous spirituality like the T’nalak weaving. I was impressed with the powerful relationship indigenous Filipinos have with nature and their land, and that’s why I like to represent in my artwork the T’Boli people surrounded by animals and landscape.
3. As an artist, what message do you want to impart to the audience?
I believe the role of art is to shape a better, more humane society. I think I would like to be known for the ideas featured through my artwork. The experience with the audience in New York has been great. We are grateful to the United States Philippine Society, with special thanks to Mr. Henry Howard for sponsoring the show in New York and Washington DC. The Filipino American Community of New York has been very supportive, I have been deeply touched by the enthousiasm of the kababayans while admiring the artworks that inspired them fond memories of their provinces. It is also an honour and a blessing that some of the “Liwanag” artworks are now part of the collection of businesswoman and philantropist Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis.
When I left the Philippines after my one year trip, my most desired wish has been to come back and share my artwork in the country. I got married and became a mother, but I carried on slowly and surely, with the idea of creating an artistic project aiming to give back to the Filipino people. My endeavour has been quite challenging, but I just couldn’t forget the Filipinos and Filipinas I met during my year living in the country. I felt I owed them this exhibition. (With photos and press release from the Philippine Center