Seeing Anna Bautista's work online is a relief. The presence of the familiar and the humorous winking at you from every painting, the quotidian frozen in time — from lemons and fruits to the once-strange-but-now-familiar face mask. All are memorialized on the canvas. And what better way to serve as a memory than the hope that one day all of this will be over?
But who knows when? For Anna, this was a time of reckoning and, with an understanding of a young adult locked down in her house for over a year (and counting), she knew this needed to be chronicled for posterity.
What started as a sketch of little things that reminded her of lockdown now became a trove of remembrance. For her, first and foremost, and for everyone else seeing her new exhibit, “Time Capsules.”
“I was having so many thoughts about the future and was seeing so many things that were apparent to the new time like sushi bake, ube pandesal, face shields… I just started journaling and doodling on the side of my sketchbook, then it started piling up as the lockdown days kept getting extended. So I was like, ‘What am I gonna do with this?’ And after one year, I hope everything will be better and I’ll be vaccinated. But after one year, I’m still not yet vaccinated. So I’m still holding on to that hope. It was a project built on hope — that one day it will all be better.”
This need to trace and sketch things to keep an account started when she was little.
Anna recalls a time when her family would travel and visit different museums. “I’d look at some of the postcards for sale but I was thrifty and would rather buy a kiddie bag–– so what I did was sketch them” so that, in a way, she’d still have those things with her. This exploration and way of remembering her experiences persisted in college with a school project.
“Most of my classmates had videos, films, photo exhibits… I initially wanted to do a photography set but then I realized I don’t have enough equipment to execute the vision I wanted. So I asked if I could draw. It was five small paintings that tackled consumerism in the Philippines or in my generation, which is Generation Z, and how we have a different viewpoint on it from millennials and other generations. After that, an agency saw (the paintings) through referral and that catapulted me into painting a lot more,” Anna recalls.
In “Time Capsules,” we see a modern Maria Clara in the sun, fanning her face with the quintessential abanico. In the “Before” view, you'd think she's outdated as she's still hiding behind the symbol of modesty and shyness. Now, however, the abanico in front of the face takes on a whole new meaning.
And meaning is something Anna toys with. In previous collections, she flirted with luxury fashion brands in juxtaposition with traditional Filipino elements. A man garbed in barong Tagalog holds a flower for Cy Twombly, the prominent abstract artist whom Anna admires. The flowers are painted the way Cy would — raw and drenched. It’s reverent and mischievous at the same time.
Zoomed in, small patches of paint make up the bigger picture. When asked about this, Anna seemed to find it hard to explain. I understood her then: it’s unexplainable, because it comes naturally to her. It’s her shorthand. She understands how even the minute things make up the bigger picture of our lives.
“How I used to paint (was with) an underpainting — they would look like maps. I also found a fascination that they were literally just patches of color but when you put them all together, it created a photo. And that’s how I see life: moments and increments of time, tapos when you combine all of them, wala, it’s your life.”
We see this perspective rendered in “Time Capsules.” Conceptualized as a tribute to our hardworking frontliners and as a memory we can look back on when all this is over, Anna looks to the physical things that have anchored our lives in the past two years and elevates them on canvas and on textile. A jump rope, a syringe, a face mask — all little things that continue to make up our bigger picture. “It’s a shared experience by everyone on the globe,” she adds. “And when was the last time that happened, diba?”
For a specific scarf design featured in the collection, the “Sampaguita Chain Time Capsule,” she remarks: “We haven’t been hearing Mass in the real church, so it’s all online. But then my dad would sometimes bring home sampaguitas and it was only then I realized na ang ganda pala ng sampaguita. It was funny because it never occurred to me that it was really that beautiful because I would see it every time I would walk in church. And what really caught me was how all these sampaguitas are all interlinked by a solid thread and that’s how I see everyone right now. Even if there’s still social distancing, how we’re all more connected than ever and interlinked.”
“Time Capsules” shows Anna at her most reflective — from the mirror smack dab in the middle of her scarves, to the sheepish Maria Claras donning face masks and abanico fans. All these experiences are given a hopeful meaning through Anna’s brush strokes.
I have to admit it’s perplexing, conceptually and up close, to see what the past two years of our lives have been. Yet the meaning behind every piece in “Time Capsules” calls out for understanding and reflection. No matter how mystifying or unconventional they may sometimes be, how they carry the past as resonant and ever-present, this is what art at its best does.
Proceeds of “Time Capsules” support projects by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. for the construction of the Grand Foyer of the National Museum of Natural History, the National Planetarium, and the transfer and conservation of the “Progress of Medicine in the Philippines” by National Artist Botong Francisco.