Weaving Stories: An Interview with Olive Gloria
by Mayumi Hirano
Mayumi Hirano (MH): When and how were you introduced to the Black Artists in Asia (BAA)? I believe you were still a high school student back then. Were you interested in art and/or cultural work?
Olive Gloria (OG): BAA Atelier was located in front of my school, Colegio de San Agustin. I can’t really recall how it caught my attention the first time, or how I was introduced to it. I was barely aware of the arts and culture scene of Bacolod, and BAA definitely provided one of my earliest exposures to arts and design during my formative years. I guess it’s safe to say that it was BAA that actually piqued my interest in the arts during my high school years.
MH: Will you tell me your early impressions and memories of your encounters or interactions with BAA members like Norberto "Peewee" Roldan, Nunelucio "Nune" Alvarado, Charlie Co, Dennis Ascalon, Maria Lourdes "Nening" Villanueva, Aurora Peñaflor, Mary Jane Prado, and Melody "Mel" Tupas-Roldan?
OG: Nune, Peewee, and Charlie all have very different characters, and each one is as unique and interesting. It fascinated me to get to know them, and to learn about the works that they have been doing. There was always something new to learn. I can remember that the rest of them were all friendly and welcoming.
MH: Did you visit the BAA Atelier often? What was it like visiting the space? What do you remember about the space? Would you describe it as an office, a shop, or an exhibition space?
OG: Yes, I would often hang out at the Atelier. This was in 1991 and the space had this basic yet sleek feel to it. It was my first experience of this kind of environment, and I thought it was pretty cool. I was amazed and fascinated with the designs, and the merchandise they were producing. On certain occasions, and I could vaguely remember, there would be an exhibit opening or an art event happening, and though I might have attended a few of it, I was probably too young to really get myself involved.
However, what probably impressed me the most were the print and painting workshops that I attended. Although I didn’t think much of it at that time, this is actually where I was able to create my first works of art.
MH: Were there any other young students who hung out at the space with the BAA members? Were there any new or unexpected people whom you met through BAA?
OG: Yeah, there were some familiar people — some young, some older. The people at BAA were always unexpected, always diverse, always different.
MH: What activities of the BAA did you participate in?
OG: I participated in some workshops and a merchandise launch. I also contributed some creative works.
One workshop I remember attending was the printmaking workshop under Fil Delacruz, in partnership with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). I also attended some painting workshops, but I can’t recall the details anymore.
MH: Were the members of BAA interested in your creative works?
OG: None that I am fully aware of. Maybe Peewee, because he would always encourage me to create works.
MH: What was your understanding of the BAA at the time?
OG: For me, BAA was like an art gallery, workshop, and atelier — the only one of its kind and probably even the first in Bacolod. It was very pioneering. I did not concern myself with its origins back then — I was probably too young to even give it any consideration.
MH: Did the BAA seem like a structured organization or a loose or tight group of friends?
OG: Personally, it both felt like a structured organization and a tight group of friends.
MH: BAA initiated the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) in 1990 in Bacolod, and organized the second one in 1992. Do you remember anything about them? Did you attend or help with the events? In 1992, there were Japanese artists who participated. Did you have any interactions with them or remember seeing their works? There was a group of Japanese taiko drummers who visited different schools. I wonder if they came to your school or you caught them performing in public spaces.
OG: I can barely recall the first two VIVAs that were held in Bacolod. I was probably between 14 to 16 years old then, and my attention was kind of directed to what my teenage peers were doing at that time which, most definitely, was not VIVA. I was distracted but I could already sense that VIVA was this special, one-of-a-kind art event happening in the city at that time but I really had no idea then as to what extent. All I know is that it was impressive and too much for my young mind to fathom.
No, I was not a participant nor was I part of the committee. I did not have a hand in the planning, but I did drop by to attend and see some of the events and exhibitions. I even briefly participated in the painting of a mural near the old city jail.
I can recall that there were some foreign personalities who were present, but it was a mix and I was not sure which particular countries they came from. Although when I listened to Tatsuo Inagaki’s talk during the VIVA dialogues in April of 2018 in Capiz — where he chronicled his journey from Japan to Negros — I found out that he was a delegate and that he even did an installation in the plaza using discarded wood, which looked very familiar to me because I got to see it back then.
MH: VIVA has been going on for 30 years. Which VIVAs did you attend? What do you remember the most and why?
OG: The 2018 VIVA was the first ever VIVA that I fully experienced and witnessed, and most importantly, took part in. The reason for which I cannot fully explain. It could be because my interest went into film during my college years, and I kind of immersed myself in working on movies after college.
Around this time, in 2002, I also began living in Manila, so I was actually away from the Visayan art scene. When I came back to Bacolod in 2015, I began to slowly integrate myself back into the local art community and I started to use textile as a medium for my art practice.
MH: Please tell me about your art practice. Did the BAA and/or VIVA influence your art practice?
OG: I would definitely give credit to the BAA for exposing me to the local art scene during my formative years. When I was living in Manila, I would often visit Green Papaya, so it showed me another view of the art scene there. My exposure to the Philippine art scene has always inspired me to keep doing art. I am in awe of the diversity of Philippine arts and culture, more so with the contemporary art scene.
It was sometime in 2013 that I started to experiment with textile, although prior to that, I was already producing some works like paintings, drawings, and sketches, among others.
MH: If I’m not mistaken, you joined Tatsuo’s conceptual art workshop in the Bacolod summer workshop. Why did you decide to take it? Could you tell me more about your experience participating in the workshop?
OG: The first time I met Tatsuo was during the VIVA ExCon dialogues in Roxas City in April 2018. I took up his class because, for one, it was the only one of its kind being offered in Bacolod. Second, I felt that my art practice was going more into the direction of conceptual art combined with social practice, so it was definitely a rare opportunity to attend his workshop. And it did not disappoint. I picked up a lot of insights from him.
His workshop was very engaging. He presented a lot of details and insights, especially on conceptual art, that I have not yet learned about. The exercises we did in his workshop were a first for me. I also got to meet other local artists who enrolled in his class.
MH: You also sent your son to Mary Jane’s theater workshop in 2019, which I had the chance to observe. Mary Jane was a member of the BAA. Did you know her then? Why did you sign up your son for the workshop?
OG: Ever since we moved back to Bacolod in 2015, I would enroll him in the art workshops being offered by the University of St. La Salle. Prior to that theater workshop, I made him join a dance workshop, and then he also joined a singing workshop, guitar and drums workshop, and I also made him attend my own workshop on visual arts. That year, he wanted to try out children’s theater so that’s where I enrolled him. It resulted in him acting in a few short films. He even won the Best Actor Award for one short film titled Forever. Recently, in the PMPC Star Awards held on 26 September, it won the Best Short Film Award.1
MH: Observing the children's theater workshop was an eye-opening experience for me too. Mary Jane didn't teach kids how to "act" but guided them to listen to each other, which created a safe space for them to share vulnerable emotions.
I remember Mary Jane told me her theater pedagogy originates in her participation in the street performances of the Negros chapter of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP-Negros), which she was a member of, in the 1980s. It is thrilling to know that Bacolod, particularly La Salle, continues to invite various facilitators to offer young students opportunities to explore the potential of art for social change.
As my last question for you, could you talk more about your art practice which, as you mentioned earlier, is going into the direction of conceptual art combined with social practice? Please tell me about your ongoing work with the community of weavers.
OG: I actually don’t categorize my art practice into or under anything in particular. For me, it is just my own personal self-expression, both yin and yang, which incidentally includes the integration of the causes that I believe in.
When I started to experiment with textile, I was still based in Manila, or Makati in particular, and the textile-based materials and sources that I used were mainly contemporary in nature. When I moved back to Bacolod, it was just natural for me to dig deeper into the roots of my textile art practice, which led me to the local traditional weaving practice in the province. So I engaged myself with the local weavers, and tried to do some art projects involving them. This interest also led me to do more research on the textile and weaving history of the Philippines. Eventually, I also wanted to find out more about other textile-based techniques, which led me to incorporate local and indigenous needlework into my art practice. This is how my engagement with the Panay Bukidnon community came about. I already have knowledge about their embroidery tradition called the panubok, and I had the chance to dialogue with them when I met some of the members for the first time during VIVA ExCon in Capiz in 2018.
MH: What motivates you to continue working with the weavers?
OG: I want to know how their story will unfold, and I want to retell their story.
I’ll use something that I have written for an ongoing art project, titled The Stories in the Thread, to explain one of my motivations to continue working with them:
“The Thread as the text itself (for example: embroidered texts), or as the representation of the text (as in objects, images or illustrations), provides contextual and subtextual messages, aside from the actual text or message that it initially wants to communicate. Within that environment where we have local weavers and Indigenous Peoples who work with the thread, lies a thread of conversation that speaks about the social, political and cultural climate around it. Much like the threaded conversations in contemporary social media, there are stories apart from the ones that are being talked about in the actual conversation that will always be a part of that same conversation. And the messages of these stories will forever be embedded in that tangible material where they were created.”
“The Stories in the Thread is a statement declaring the importance of the roles that the local weaving tradition and indigenous needleworks play in Philippine arts and culture.”
1 Forever can be viewed here: vimeo.com/392645153/9f5dad616e
This interview was conducted via email in September 2021. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Olive Gloria is a cultural worker and a visual artist whose practice is grounded on the weaving and embroidery traditions of indigenous peoples of the Visayas. Based in Bacolod (Negros Occidental), her work is informed by her fieldwork and research on the indigenous and weaving communities of the Visayas, namely the Panay Bukidnon of Panay Island, the Sibato Bukidnon of Silay (who migrated to the neighboring island of Negros from Panay), and the hand loom weavers of Valladolid and Kabankalan. As a recipient of Individual Grants from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) from 2016 to the present, she has ongoing research and collaborations with indigenous communities engaged in traditional weaving and indigenous needlework in both islands.
Her past exhibitions include PANAHI: New Works on Visayan Contemporary Textile Art (2016) which was featured in the VIVA ExCon 2018 biennale in Capiz; PANAHI: Weaves and Strokes, an art project on the influence of traditional textile and indigenous needlework in the development of the weaving industry of the Sibato Bukidnon community (2018); Panahi + Panubok, an initiative to pass on the age-old embroidery tradition of the Panay Bukidnon to the Sibato Bukidnon community (2019); and ANG MGA SUGILANON SA HILO: The Stories in the Thread, an art project exploring stories and conversations embedded in the indigenous needlework and traditional textile in the Visayas (2021). As a cultural worker, she worked as coordinator for the International Council on Museums (ICOM) Conference held in Bacolod City in 2015; she was a consultant and resource person for MUGNA: Towards a Sustainable Cultural Development of Negros Island in 2016, HANAS: Scholarship Program for Culture and the Arts in 2019, and for Tib-ong Manunudlo Contemporary Art Workshops in 2019 and 2020.
Olive took up AB Mass Communications at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. She is currently the Artistic Director of Grupo Letras Y Figuras (GLYF), the visual arts group of the University of St. La Salle - Artists’ Hub.