Young artist Vyankka Balasabas produces paintings and video-based works from her own personal symbols and background, on the subject of female assimilation into the predominantly masculine environment of the Philippine military.
In her artist’s statement, Balasabas recalls growing up as a young girl within a military family based in Mindanao. These memories and her personal response to how maternal and feminine identities are negotiated in such a setting became the subject of her undergraduate works, yielding the material for this solo show. She notes how the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shifted from an all-male institution during the founding of the Academia Militar in 1899 to one open to women with the enactment of enabling laws nearly a century later in 1993.
Balasabas’ works simulate the setting of the barracks by incorporating portraits of female cadets from the Philippine Navy in Mindanao, military textiles, and the Waling-waling (vanda sanderiana), a rare orchid endemic to the region. The works connect maternal and state duties, consciously taking pride in articulating the military’s professed ethos as an institution that fought “against insurgencies, piracies and terrorism in Mindanao for the past 40 years.”
Balasabas’ deployment of these symbols and values, however, yields unsettling interfaces between region, nation, ecology, gender and power. When the context of ongoing realities today are taken into account, these images beg the question of how female identities may be celebrated as individual assertions of power but also how they may conscripted within larger repressive and ideological state apparatuses. Does the influx of women into the service, for instance, significantly affect the existing and painful narratives of civil war and state fascism, particularly the Moros and the lumad peoples throughout history? Does feminine participation erase and efface the mercenary character of the AFP, which generations of dissidents from the other side have written about since the 1960s?
These questions offer no easy answers. And the act of seeking certainty promises both a belated welcome and warning to all new recruits in the larger, broader canvas of war.
About the artist
Vyankka Balasabas twice won the grand prize in the Vision Petron National Students Art Competition (2014 and 2015). She grew up in northern Davao and graduated from the University of Mindanao with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts (major in Painting). She participated in the 2016 Cinemalaya Institute Screenwriting Workshop.
Artworks from the Show
The Valiant Warriors in Mindanao, Vyankka Balasabas, 2017, Oil on basic stretcher, 21½×86 in
The Valiant Warriors in Mindanao II, Vyankka Balasabas, 2017, Oil on basic stretcher, 19½×89¼ in
28-day cycle, Vyankka Balasabas, 2017, Oil on cadaver bag cloth, 7¾×7¾ in
Ilaw ng Kuwartel (Light of the Barracks), Vyankka Balasabas, 2017, Oil on Philippine Navy dress cloth, 12×8¾ in
Hope, Vyankka Balasabas, 2017, Oil on Philippine Marine Corps battle dress cloth, 8×8 in