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Pacita Abad

Venue: Gropius Bau

Pacita Abad

Born 1946 in Basco Batanes, PH – died 2004 in Singapore, SG

Although trapunto is an Italian quilting technique that predates the fourteenth century, contemporary artist Pacita Abad inverted this method of creating padded patterns on stitched cloth—lending it a sculptural dimension and infusing it with imagery rooted in non-hegemonic cultures. Using a sewing technique historically gendered “female,” she created a large-scale, hand-sewn, and vibrantly painted series of masks (1981–2000), which incorporate multiple materials and influences ranging from African masks to Nepalese and Tibetan thangkas, depictions of buddhas or deities painted on cloth.

As a Filipina and self-defined woman of color, Abad intensively researched the diverse epistemologies of the Global South throughout her career. Leaving the Philippines after being involved in protests against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos (1965–86), she moved to the United States. As an art student in New York, she became aware of the considerable influence that so-called “primitive” art had exerted on western modernism and of the art world’s bias against the Indigenous artists who produced these works that were often labeled as “decorative” or “ethnographic.” Through her own work and extensive travels and study in Latin America, North America, Asia, and Africa, she became a joyful and persistent advocate for the geopolitical empowerment and artistic recognition of traditional cultures.

The selection of trapunto mask paintings on view includes the largest of the series: Marcos and His Cronies (1985–95), also known as Medicine Man, which took ten years to complete. It represents the brutality and corruption of her country’s government under the Marcos regime. The dictator appears surrounded by eighteen grotesque masks that represent various members of his cabinet as well as his wife Imelda, whose bright earrings refer to her notoriously lavish lifestyle.

Agustín Pérez Rubio

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