Nikki Luna is not only an artist but also a social advocate. She’s founder of StartArt, a nonprofit organization that provides art therapy for children living in conflict zones in the Philippines (www.startartproject.org).
She said her art aims to tell history from the perspective of “the oppressed and marginalized collective narratives.”
The narrative that weaves Luna’s body of works is informed by that first trauma—the separation from the maternal, the bloody, “splitting, fusing, merging, fragmenting” body—from where one is born into helpless dependency.
In her struggle to construct a distinct identity as a woman artist, Luna said she abandoned the image of the corporal female.
Over the years, she has painstakingly built her visual vocabulary, translating the pains of birth and womanhood into images of antiseptic domesticity—from eggs, to lace and ribbons, and other “pretty things.”
In “Beat,” a joint exhibition with Ernest Conception in Lopez Memorial Museum, Luna stays true to her credo, tackling death and injustice through the use of materials usually associated with gentility.
Two hundred pipes made of dainty breakable china hover over a room in the exhibition area. These are illuminated by sparse lighting and a projected video of farmers tilling land in Tarlac. The overlapping shadows are cast on the white wall of the video installation.
“Precious” and “Fertile” recall the ominous truncheons used by police to hit dissenters. They make references to the Hacienda Luisita incident on Nov. 16, 2004, during which 12 farmers were killed and hundreds injured when police and soldiers opened fire at their picket line.
“Azucarera” features diamond figures made of sugar from Hacienda Luisita mixed with resin.
“Embellished Earth” is a collection of packed clay, each containing a glinting 13-karat solid gold cast from rice grain. Both these sets of luxurious sculptures are displayed in jewelry cases, in an attempt to emphasize the value of land and its bounty taken away from those who have nurtured and tilled it for generations.
Sculptures of opulence set against social reality evoke the paradox that Luna has discovered in her “journeys to the margins.”
In “Beat,” she rounds up the various meanings of the word beat (blow/defeat/rhythm)—evoking power, violence and art.
On Aug. 18, in an artist talk at the Lopez Museum, Luna will discuss the militarization and mining in ancestral-domain areas, and about her work, “7 Lupa: Kibawe-Bukidnon, Maramag-Bukidnon, Opol-Misamis Oriental, San Fernando-Bukidnon, Ramain-Lanao Sur, Dalwangan-Malaybalay, Misamis Oriental.”
Luna’s works will be exhibited in the Fifth Beijing International Art Biennale in the National Art Museum of China on Sept. 28.