Towards Paradise: A Review of For She Loved Fiercely, and She is Well-Loved (2010) by Geraldine Javier

Although a painter by training, Geraldine Javier, a prolific Filipina artist and awardee of the Thirteen Artist Awards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on 2003, is known for her works making use of a variety of materials — largely organic ones, such as threads, feathers, twigs, and other dead natural specimen. Through the use of these array of materials in her paintings-cum-sculpture and installations, her practice is wide-ranging, and affords to explore the complex themes of the nature of things, and the personal. With good traction in the international art scene, Javier has her works represent her around Singapore, specifically the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), Singapore Art Museum (SAM), and other commercial art galleries in the island-state.

After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art, an exhibition held at the Singapore Art Gallery in which Geraldine Javier is part of, dwells on the selected artists’ exploration of the idea of the elusively perfect world, Thomas More’s Utopia. Since the coining of the term, humanity has been performing attempts towards accomplishing this idea again and again, knowing that this state is, at its literal and fundamental sense, unreachable. Utopia comes from the Greek words οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”), and together, the words mean “not-place”, a place that ceases to exist. This dynamism of hoping-against-hope is what powers the exhibition: after all that has been done to achieve this Utopian ideal, what more can these Asian contemporary artists add up?

The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul. – Thomas More, “Utopia”

Geraldine Javier’s Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (“For She Loved Fiercely, And She is Well-Loved”) draws its intimate reflection from this garden —  and the desire for this paradise, which holds the soul of humanity. Charged with layers of metaphors, the painting, through its thick yet serene foliage and flora, brings the viewers into the depth of the artist’s garden.

Superimposed in the garden is a figure of a woman, whose imagery reinforces the reference to the Biblical character Eve, who during the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, was promised pain upon childbirth. The woman may also be recognized as a portrait of the beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who was equally granted pain, but ironically never through childbirth. Kahlo is known for her strong expressive sense of self in her series of self-portraits, which were her channels to express the fierce love and passion, and intense pain she had experienced in the course of her life. Javier’s depiction of the artist, a woman with a peaceful, bordering melancholic, downcast gaze towards her doves, offers the contrary — relief.

Scattered around the figure are preserved butterflies cushioned carefully in wooden frames mounted on the canvas. These butterflies, metaphors for beauty and fragility, ties well with the paradise the artist may be referring to. Perhaps this garden is a Utopia that promises protection from pains and sufferings a woman, represented by Eve and Kahlo, has to face. However, the vanitas style of portraying the butterflies — memorializing them — and the lamenting appearance of the woman subtly hints that such a paradise may not be possibly realized prior death. 

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The exhibit ran from the 1st of May to the 18th of October, 2015 at the Singapore Art Museum along Bras Basah Road, Singapore City. The artwork Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (“For She Loved Fiercely, And She is Well-Loved”) by Geraldine Javier is part of the Singapore Art Museum collection.


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