Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Cristina Sollesta Taniguchi, popularly known as Kitty, first entered the Philippine art scene in the early ‘80s. Despite the hardships of being a female regional artist in an industry which has an inclination towards male and Metro-Manila based creators, the Visayan painter still managed to succeed. Today, her long list of achievements include her three-time participation at the Beijing International Art Biennale from 2005 to 2008, her work’s inclusion at the Worldwide Art-Artavita Gallery at Art Expo in New York in 2017, and a solo exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, among several local and international exhibitions and art residencies.
A long-time painter, sculptor, and the mother of critically-acclaimed artist Maria Taniguchi, she is also the founder of the Mariyah Gallery, a pioneering art space in Dumaguete City during the early ‘90s and one of the newest additions to Art Fair Philippines’ roster of exhibitors.
While Taniguchi did not receive formal academic training in visual art, her fondness for the craft, which began early in her childhood, and eventual appreciation for the industry led her to learn the ropes of painting by herself. Her early works were said to have been heavily influenced by medieval and Renaissance art, but her recent oeuvre takes on a more postmodernist style. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Silliman University in 1978 and pursued a Master’s degree in English and American Literature at the same institution in 1985, both of which she believes to have greatly informed her worldview as an artist.
Kitty’s oeuvre is often linked to the concept of feminism. The recurrence of women figures in her work, as well as the fantastical unicorn and a lion which can be inferred as symbols of the two sides of a woman (the stereotypical subtlety in contrast to fierceness), was once described by Alice Guillermo as “bodies hinting at a personal history only the owner can recount.”
Through a brief interview, Taniguchi talks about her work as an artist and gallerist, as well as representation of Visayan artists in the Philippine contemporary art scene.
Your work is often lauded for capturing the essence of femininity, with some even referring to your work as feminist. Do you agree with this interpretation of your work?
I wouldn’t really know. Frankly, I focus on these themes because I am a woman, and I am familiar with the experiences of the woman. Some people label me as a feminist, but actually I just paint what I know. It just so happens that one of my central subject matters is the woman [which is a recurring character in most of my work]. What I am setting out to do is a personal mythology, and so I focus on such themes because that is what I experience as a woman myself.
Years into your practice as an artist, as well as an educator, you founded the Mariyah Gallery in Dumaguete City. What prompted you to open — and pioneer — an art gallery?
We opened what was formerly a restaurant with a gallery [Mariyah Gallery Restaurant, formerly named Galleria Maria Cristina]. Our place used to be at the outskirts, [outside] the city center. We wanted to make the restaurant venture interesting by also showing artworks. Some people would come and see, and they made use of the space. Then we closed the restaurant and just focused on the gallery. I was still teaching when I decided to open the restaurant, but then I realized that what I really wanted was to go ahead with fine art.
As for being the pioneering art space in Dumaguete, we started the venture in 1992, and I don’t really know if there were existing ones in the ‘80s that closed up shop before we opened. But when we started the gallery, as far as I remember, we were the only one.
How would you describe the process of curating work for the gallery?
As long as the art is interesting and relevant to society, we would be willing to feature them. We do accept artists from other places, outside Dumaguete and the Visayas, as long as we can give these artists a good chance. But, you know, in the province, sometimes it’s so difficult. We don’t really have an art market layer so we have to think twice before exhibiting good artists.
Being one of the newer exhibitors at the Art Fair Philippines, alongside other Visayas-based galleries, what can you say about finally being slated for this year?
I’m glad that we finally made it to the Art Fair Philippines. Through this venue, we can really showcase, if not work of other artists from the Visayas, then at least my works. I hope there’s a next time.
Do you think that regional artists, particularly from the Visayas region, are now well-represented in the Philippine art scene?
I do think that we [Visayan galleries] should be coming here in the capital more often, bringing more artists from the Visayas. We’re working on that. I am a member of the National Committee on Art Galleries [under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts], and we’re trying to do some projects that would really develop the art scene in the Visayas, and hopefully sometimes we could come here in Metro Manila to showcase our products.
We’re actually invited by another gallery and fellow NCAG member to the upcoming ManilART this October. It’s a tentative schedule, but we’re trying to work on that. Mariyah Gallery will be bringing a group of artists who worked on this project entitled “Anonymous Animals.”