By NORWIN GONZALES
BAGUIO CITY — Artist-mother Raquel Tisha Ramos, Kelly to her colleagues and friends, opened up her painting exhibit on February 10 at the BenCab Museum.
Entitled “Love Letters From Tawang,” she opened for public view paintings she did for three years while residing in a clay house at the top of a mountain in Tawang, La Trinidad, Benguet.
Born to a middle-class family in the pre-commercial boom Cagayan de Oro, she would explore the town on a red BMX bike with her brother and sister.
Kelly was a “very shy kid” and rarely talked in school. However, she was into a lot of out-of-school activities such as swimming, tennis, and of course, art.
She grew up with her two sisters, and a brother while a lot of relatives lived nearby.
She also enrolled into summer art classes with her siblings and cousins, but was the only one who pursued the arts after.
Kelly took up fine arts in the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She was not able to finish her degree but went on to pursue art-related endeavors such as art writing, cultural organizing and art production.
“Many many influences; every life experience an influence,” she answered when asked about her influences.
“Thus am very conscious about what kind of culture to consume but at the same time also to be exposed to new things that are happening in the art world, and especially to seek out the ones that push the boundaries of art. Many interesting things to discover,” she added.
In Tawang, one can see Van Gogh influences with the brushwork, specifically the panoramic 3×6 work “It’s all over now baby blue” which a friend (Kelly’s) said reminded her of “Starry Starry Night,” and maybe a bit of Rembrandt on the 4×5 “Shelter from the Storm” where she tried to do chiaroscuro with people-around-the-bonfire lighting.
Among her local influences are her mentor Roberto Chabet; her schoolmates Elaine Navas, and Jonathan Olazo, Ringo Bonuan and Annie Cabigting.
She has different reasons for liking their works such as Bonuan’s subtle thoughtfulness, Cabigting’s self-reflective realism about art.
Among Baguio artists, she cites Kidlat Tahimik’s films, Kawayan de Guia’s in-your-face social commentary, and Rene Aquitania’s 1980 performances which she had not witnessed but read about.
“It’s funny how artists nowadays are so careful about not being branded as ‘political.’ Doesn’t it seem like NOW is the time to make a stand, though? With everything that’s happening in the world?”
Kelly admits to be leaning towards ‘art for social change.’ She thinks she expects much about artists and that they should wield their weapons to better influence society.
“I expect them to be more critical, to think more deeply, to step up and be the philosophers of today.”
She cites Theodor Adorno’s culture industry wherein he explains how art is used “to dampen people’s critical reflection of what’s happening in the society and the world.”
“As an artist, the crucial question to ask is: am I making genuine and autonomous art? Or am I (maybe unknowingly) under the monopolistic control of the culture industry and making commodified products that promote the status quo?” she said.
Her advice to aspiring artists, whatever their stand may be, would be: “Be true to yourself, be open to others. There will be hard times. There will be fun times. That’s just life.”
She also suggested for artists to have a ‘separate source of income’ so they ‘can do what (they) want with their art.
“The secret formula for art production is this: take something personal, make it universal,” she remarked
Kelly also celebrated the recognition of Baguio City as a UNESCO Creative City. She looks forward to seeing local development plans inclusive and integrative of the culture and the arts. She also expects the folk arts such as weaving, carving and others to take front and center in the context of this recognition.
Meanwhile, on government support into the arts, she said; “I really have not seen much support. Meron ba? (Is there Any?)”
On future prospects, Kelly raves about Sulong Likha, which is a progressive group doing politically-themed murals at events. She is very interested in doing art as a collective.
They also are in the process of proposing works in a space at Alfredo Tadiar Library in San Fernando, La Union. The place is managed by the family of Professor Neferti Tadiar.
Kelly is also part of Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) – Baguio chapter.
She also expressed that she has plans for new shows in galleries and museums.
Along with her busy schedule, she does not fail to give time to her three children: Kabu, Kalinaw and Kaaro.
When asked how she balances being an artist and a mother she answered, “There is no distinction. I am one and the same person as mom and as artist.”
“Love Letters From Tawang” runs until April 1 at the BenCab Museum in Tuba, Benguet. # nordis.net