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Artist Faye Abantao Dwells on Collective and Personal Memories

by Portia Placino
Feb 11, 2023

( Faye Abantao is a Bacolod-based contemporary artist who primarily works with paper as material. Her captivating creations take the viewer through a journey of her memories—woven, folded, and torn. The delicate forms traverse personal, social, and occasionally political reflections of what was, what is, and what could be. She grew up working with paper, from doodles to origami, eventually transforming the material into enthralling works. She won the Butanding Barrio Residency for ArtFairPH/Residencies 2021 and was the Karen H. Montinola Selection for ArtFairPH/Projects 2023 with her latest collection Don’t Forget to Remember.

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Faye Abantao Profile
PHOTO BY AESON BALDEVIA/Courtesy of the artist

Beginnings in Paper Portraits

Abantao started creating portraits of people she knew. She lacked budget and resources earlier in her career, so she dug deeper within her circle.

She shares, "Portraits are the easiest subject to tackle, I was always curious about what they think. It interests me to know more about the person."

Her practice expanded when she went to Gwangju, Korea, for her first residency, getting to know people and their stories. She further narrates that the residency is an "exposure to different communities and a different set of people. I’ve come to see how these people work as well. We meet halfway."

Abantao’s earlier portraits do not focus on capturing the subject's likeness. Instead, she obscured their faces and depicted their pain. "Perennial Dreams" (2017), her installation collaboration with Sul Park in Gwanju, as well as her participation in Blank Stares, Empty Faces, Hollow Life (A Series) (2017) at Vargas Museum, presented the melancholy of her captured subjects.

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Perennial Dreams
"Perennial Dreams" (2017) by Faye Abantao and Sul Park
PHOTO  Courtesy of the artist
Faye Abantao Altar Obsession
"In the Name of Science" (2019) for Altar Obsession
PHOTO Courtesy of the artist

Gaining confidence in her portrayals, Abantao eventually dealt with social commentaries in her artworks. Her arc-shaped pieces for "Altar Obsession" (2019) looked into the intersections of humanity and divinity. The work explored the complicated relationship of religious ideologies in the present.

Abantao’s most political works are her "Election Posters" for the group show Lorem Ipsum (2019) and her solo show Survival of the Fittest (2019), both at Tin-aw Art Gallery in Makati City. The midterm election in 2019 saw a proliferation of campaign posters, a ubiquitous sight during campaign season in the Philippines. One work with text "Post No Bill” dominating the frame references the disregard for such rules, particularly during elections.  The pieces "Freedom of Speech"  (2019) and "Poverty Line" (2019) position the individual within the inescapable realities of everyday life.

Faye Abantao Survival of the Fittest
"Freedom of Speech" (2019) for Survival of the Fittest
PHOTO Courtesy of the artist
Faye Abantao Post No Bill
"Post no Bill" (2019) for Lorem Ipsum
PHOTO Courtesy of the artist

Abantao’s political turn gives potency to her emerging practice. Though she does not often offer direct political statements, she finds value in exploring them in art practice, "I don’t usually do those kinds of topics. But if I do, it's something that I want to relay to my audience and fellow artists. There are things that are happening. 'Yung art na mismo yung nag-storytell. It is my way of communicating with other people. In a subtle way." She further reflects, "Yes, art is one of the powerful tools of social commentary. I think malaki 'yung part 'yung artist and yung art na ginagawa nya. Mas nagiging aware yung mga tao tungkol dun sa issues na ongoing kung ano man yung mga issues about sa Pilipinas."


"Withering Memories" (2020, Orange Project) by Faye Abantao PHOTO: Aeson Baldevia/Courtesy of the Artist

Growth with Tears and Layers

The year 2020 made an indelible mark on the world, including Abantao’s practice. Personal Unconscious, her solo exhibit at Orange Project in Bacolod City, demonstrated her capacity for experimentation. The figures in her wall-bound works are markedly different, dominated by their background. From political commentaries, Abantao turns back toward personal narratives weighed by emotions.

"Withering Memories" (2020), a site-specific installation, takes the viewer inside her home and childhood reminiscence. Abantao remembers moving into a new home and painting over wallpaper, with each layer housing a memory of childhood, growing up, and the challenges and triumphs of life. Getting stuck at home during the pandemic brought forward a discourse of home, and for Abantao, peeling and tearing away layers to reveal each story of life.

Faye Abantao Withering Memories Art
"Withering Memories" (2020, Orange Project) by Faye Abantao
PHOTO BY Aeson Baldevia/Courtesy of the Artist

She described her childhood recollections, "I wanted to dwell on that memory. 'Yung room namin sa bahay, 'yung paint may tuklap tuklap at may drawings nung bata kami. Hindi na mabura. As we grow up, 'yung wear and tear, hindi na naayos. Na-embed na 'yung memories namin, 'yung memories as kids."

faye abantao for art fair philippines
Faye Abantao at Butanding Barrio in Puerto Princesa for ArtFairPH/Residencies 2021
PHOTO BY Dice Castillo Photography/ archives
faye abantao
PHOTO BY Dice Castillo Photography/ archives
faye abantao
"Interwoven" by Faye Abantao for ArtFairPH/Residencies 2021
PHOTO BY Christa de la Cruz

Abantao expanded on the practice and notion of paper tears with Beneath The Surface: The Unfolding Experience of Palawan (2022), showing her experiences of Butanding Barrio Residency in 2021. The installation is her way of sharing her awe as she steps into an unfamiliar world. Beyond the personal, Abantao looks into the stories of the people, their environmental struggle, and their contentious space caught in tradition and development.

"Stories nila, it is beyond what I see on the Internet. It is something that I hear from them directly."

She learned their weaving techniques and, beyond that, the realities of a dying trade as practitioners encouraged their children to look for greener pastures. Stepping into her installation at Orange Project gives an impression of stepping inside Ille Cave in Dewil Valley, El Nido. She affixes her memories on the walls, akin to how early humans recorded their life through cave paintings.

During Abantao's artist residency at Butanding Barrio, she made her own sawali canvas with an image of Ille Cave in El Nido. PHOTO: Dice Castillo Photography

Bacolod and Orange Project as Site of Practice

Bacolod as a site is essential in Abantao’s practice. She shares, "I think part 'yung location sa process ko. I like it slow-paced. The way I fold my paper, I don’t like being rushed. People are not really rushing, it's how we live. We do it one by one. So 'yung practice ko, parang naging ganun din siya. I have to fold paper every day. It doesn’t mean I have a deadline. I just do it because I like it. It is like meditation. I have more time to do things, according sa time ko. I can’t imagine living in Metro Manila and doing what I do."

Faye Abantao at Orange Project
PHOTO Courtesy of the artist

Aside from enjoying the pace of life in Bacolod, Abantao also locates her practice at Orange Project, an artist-run contemporary art space. Formerly known as Gallery Orange, it as a small gallery space in Mandalagan District that's been around since 2006. It served as a home and base for young Negrense artists. Abantao reflects, "I’ve been working with Orange [Project] since I started my career in 2015. I’ve seen Orange grow into something like today. Orange has a heart for young artists. Because of that, I have grown into something like this now. Artist-run spaces, iba 'yung pag-nurture sa young artists. They have this subtle way of embedding wisdom."


Working with Orange Project meant Abantao benefitted from the mentorship of established contemporary Negrense artists such as Charlie Co and Manny Montelibano. She shares, "Ang laking factor na si Charlie [Co] 'yung isang mentor ko as I was working with Orange. He’s not teaching directly, may mga sinasabi siya na tumatatak. It is up to the artist if he or she will listen. I am grateful. They were able to see how my process evolved. Even Manny [Montelibano] sent me to Korea for residency. I was talking to them, wondering. Why did he send me to Korea in the early stage of my career in 2017? Na-prove ko rin, this was the result of them putting me on that kind of project. It is my way of giving back."

Art Fair Philippines and Beyond

There’s definitely a lot to expect from Abantao, especially after winning the Karen H. Montinola Selection for ArtFairPH/Projects 2023. When asked about her project, she shares, "For the Art Fair Philippines, it is a totally different set of work. It is a mixture of what I do and something new. I had a hard time working through this kind of project. It is also something I would enjoy along the way. In this kind of project, I realized how hard the lives of people who do assemblage are. For two to three months, I’ve been stressing about how to put this and that. I am grateful for this kind of opportunity, I was able to work on something outside of my comfort zone."


Abantao shares that she consulted her sister as she delved further into the family archive and memories, "I was talking to my sister, soundboard ko siya. It is a collaboration of so many people. And me as the director of putting things together. Kahit dun lang sa research process, iba siya. I have to do 'iba-iba' kind of research. Go through our family archives, go through photos, sort them out. It didn’t involve me taking photos. It involved scanning photos and interviewing my mom. Something I’m excited to show.”

Looking back at the growth of Abantao’s detailed and elaborate works, her audience can share her excitement. Yet, her unhurried and deliberate approach to art-making precedes the fast-paced nature of the art world.

"'Yung thought of na-hype up ako sa paggawa ng project, I would want to explore more. It doesn’t mean I have to show it right away. I am enjoying my time putting things in order. So I can start again. Research. Go on trips. Just enjoy lang muna the time for personal research."


Though it may take time to create, Abantao’s thoughtful process reveals the depth of thought and memories worth waiting for.

Also read:
Looking Out Is Looking In and Returning to Self for Artist Wawi Navarroza
Art Fair Philippines Pays Tribute to Late Gallerist Albert Avellana
Boredom Transports Artist Pow Martinez Into a Ridiculous But Authentic World

Art Fair Philippines 2023 is from February 17 to 19, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at The Link, Parkway Drive, Ayala Center, Makati City. Tickets, which are available online, are P450. For more information, visit Art Fair Philippines' website.


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