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Faye Abantao Takes the Storied Silence of El Nido's Caves to ArtFairPH

Here's how thousands of years' worth of stories ended up on a single canvas.

by Mia Rodriguez
Mar 22, 2022

(SPOT.ph) If you have ever found yourself in the islands of El Nido, or have at least seen a postcard (or more likely, an IG post), then you’re familiar with the unique karst-rock formations of the area. Tall and looming, jutting out of the seas like ancient secret-keepers, they invite you to conquer them. Which is exactly what artist Faye Abantao did the first time she ever set foot in El Nido—with the spontaneity of the action marked by the fact that she was wearing Crocs at the time. Veni, vidi, vici, she might have said. 

“If you scan through my works, it mostly deals with nature. Hindi naman harap-harapan but it’s something that’s inspired by,” the Negrense artist tells SPOT.ph. “It’s the feeling.”

Abantao had always looked to nature as her escape. Growing up in the urban wilds of Bacolod City, quiet moments in a tree-filled lot not far from her home or, as she grew older, in her escapes to the Danjugan Island reserve, nature was always where she could get some peace of mind, a little reprieve—a feeling she evokes through her art works.

Also read: Everything You Need to Know About Art Fair Philippines 2022

faye abantao for art fair philippines
PHOTO BY Dice Castillo Photography
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Paper Meets Digital 

Abantao’s works may look like traditional paintings from afar; a closer look reveals much more. She found her start in the art world a few years back when a few college friends invited her to be part of an exhibit. At the time, she was already working full time in the advertising world—still, it was an opportunity to hearken back to an old childhood love: origami. It was an opportunity she took, landing her squarely at the heart of the art scene—she is now an active part of the Orange Project collective in Bacolod—and one that she has never looked back from.

There’s a certain texture to Abantao’s works that adds a layer of breath, almost. Arguably, it can be found in the mixture of old and new techniques: paper-folding, film photography, digital editing, and more. Abantao folds and glues together paper into a sort-of woven canvas, and upon it, transfers digitally altered and printed images that she typically takes using an old film camera. “I make [the images] in digital, I print them on paper, then I transfer them on a surface with a gel medium.” 

PHOTO: Dice Castillo Photography

There are many layers and steps to the process, but one that she feels is necessary in order to create. And with the nature of the process, “mistakes” are bound to happen. From the image not transferring properly to a piece of the fragile canvas not making it through, “Sometimes I commit to my mistakes. Like I just tell myself ‘Okay, happy accident’ but, sometimes, hindi na talaga. There are lots of times I repeat,” Abantao says. 

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Her art became another layer to her reprieve from the urban day-to-day. Yes, she was indeed creating for work, but “advertising is client-based and this one is mostly personal.” She took what she got from nature—and the different parts of her—and brought it out into the world through her pieces. 

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PHOTO BY Dice Castillo Photography
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PHOTO BY Dice Castillo Photography
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There are the letters from her dad to her mom; “my dad is a seaman,” she explains, talking about the trove of words she found in her parents’ letters from decades before. “I also love hearing stories from my grandmother and my mom. I used to bug her to tell me stories, just stories from the old people.” And with Bacolod’s rich folklore, she cheekily adds that aswang stories were her favorite whenever she was feeling under the weather. “It comforts me.”

PHOTO: Dice Castillo Photography

Faye Abantao and the Stories of Palawan

“I already had a project in mind when I applied for my residency,” Abantao explains. She is one of five artists who are part of Art Fair Philippines’ first residency program, alongside artists like Derek Tumala. Abantao had never been to this island dubbed one of the best in the world, so when she saw the call online, it just made sense. “I was already searching for things to explore here in Palawan.”

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PHOTO BY Dice Castillo Photography
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Abantao landed in Butanding Barrio, a sprawling property on the hills of Puerto Princesa that looks and functions like an artist’s enclave. The place is owned by Alexis Lim and is full of forestry, with a large open-style hut right in the center—featuring a massive butanding by Perry Mamaril.  “It fits my work,” says Abantao of the first thoughts she had when she saw the place on Art Fair’s social media pages. So she ended up in an open kubo of her own—also designed by another artist, Gener Paduga—in the mahogany forest that dominates the area. “I didn’t know it would be a huge forest. Literal,” Abantao says laughing.

For her first time in the province, the artist landed in El Nido, spending some days there before moving to her kubo in Butanding Barrio in Puerto Princesa City. It was in El Nido that she climbed the karst formations during a tour of the islands, and fully understood just how different Palawan was from her home of Negros—in terms of the diversity that could be found, the flora and fauna, and yup, right down to the earth. 

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PHOTO Courtesy of Faye Abantao
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Ille Cave markings dating back to thousands of years ago; drawings that would be carried over through time and make its mark too on Abantao's works.
PHOTO Courtesy of Faye Abantao

It was also in El Nido that she first noticed a mainstay in Palawan architecture: sawali. These woven bamboo mats are typically used in homes as partitions or as reinforced as walls itself—and of course, called right back to Abantao’s weaving paper technique. 

What Abantao ended up creating for the Art Fair—which you can see for yourself physically at the offline faction of ArtFair/Residences in Makati City—is her own sawali canvas with an image of Ille Cave in El Nido, an archeological dig site. It is a quiet yet heavy piece, full of the undercurrent of her own experiences in a new place, and the experience of all those who were there before her. 

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"Interwoven" by Faye Abantao (Digital collage, image transfer on paper weave; 8x8 feet)
PHOTO BY Christa de la Cruz
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It is that quiet that emanates from her work which is Abantao’s purpose. She climbed up the karst rocks of El Nido, it was not in the military sense that Caesar meant, it was a more personal sense of triumph, of contentment, and her work is the manifestation of that. Whether viewers see it too is another question altogether. “[My work is] mostly for myself to share with others. It’s nice when they can relate, when people get my work, they purchase, and they tell me ‘Faye, your work resonates with me’. I think achievement din siya. It's not always that people can relate to what you’re doing.” 

Art Fair Philippines 2022 runs from March 23 to April 1 at Ayala Triangle Gardens, Paseo De Roxas Street corner Makati Avenue corner Ayala Avenue, Makati City. For more information, visit Art Fair Philippines' website.

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