IF YOU’VE been to New York, you’d know where Liongoren Gallery is. New York Street in Cubao, that is.
For 35 years now, Liongoren Gallery has been the beehive of artistic activities: from art exhibits and competitions to musical performances and poetry readings to forums on social and community concerns and environmental issues. It has even served as evacuation center for typhoon victims, and, for years now, as a regular venue for Bible study and prayer meetings.
Liongoren Gallery owes its decades-long existence to doyenne Norma Liongoren, wife to eccentric but very talented artist Alfredo Liongoren; mother to art photographer Erik, Indie filmmaker Avid, and graphic artist Hannah. The nurse-turned-art nurturer is also grandmother to baby Lumen.
Norma is known for encouraging, supporting and nurturing young artists. These include this writer’s daughter Maningning, who was featured in the “Walong Filipina” exhibit which Norma has been mounting biannually since 1986 in celebration of Women’s Month.
Sculptor Julie Lluch shares her pride of being included in the first exhibition right after the Edsa Revolution, with painters Brenda Fajardo and Imelda Cajipe Endaya, potter Nelfa Querubin, sculptor Virginia Ty-Navarro and printmaker Ariel Arevalo.
Each exhibit tackled relevant issues such as environmental protection, women empowerment, children’s rights, conservation of cultural heritage, and support for local produce.
The gallery has a permanent display of organic, medicinal and herbal products for sale to support producers from far-flung poor communities.
Living her advocacies
Norma lives and breathes her many advocacies. Championing Filipino heritage, she wears clothes of indigenous materials.
One would find her in a baro’t saya, or a malong, with matching native bag, Paete-carved wooden clogs and wide-brimmed nito hat gracing her gallery’s activities or her friends’ exhibits and book launches. She wears her native garb every day of her life.
Her daughter Hannah remembers how she wondered as a child why her mom spent a lot of time in Mindanao with the B’laans. She realized her mom’s affinity with them and the other ethnic groups translated into active commiseration with them through social action like boycotting goods sold by companies that displaced them.
“All her life, she is dedicated to finding our roots and our national identity,” Hannah says.
Lluch describes Norma: “Her vision is all-embracing: from art to politics, from environment, cultural conservation and dissemination, to health care, feminism and spirituality. She is an initiator, instigator, organizer, social activist, community worker, soul winner and culture-heroine.”
Last year, Norma cooperated with Habi Philippine Textile Council to showcase her gallery, a collaborative art project of four visual artists and four weavers.
“Walong Filipina: Alay sa Manghahabi (Tribute to the Weaver)” featured the following: University of the Philippines Fine Arts faculty member and painter Ninel Constantino with Tingguian teacher and weaver Norma Agaid Mina of Peñarubia, Abra; visual artist Joy Mallari with Kalinga weaver-entrepreneur Irene Bawer Bimuyag of Kalinga, Apayao; graphic designer and needle-crafter Gabie Osorio with master weaver Flordelita Guileb of Bangar, La Union; and crochet wizard Aze Ong with warrior-weaver Adelaida Lim of Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation of Baguio City.
The exhibit got curatorial help from the Art Studies class of UP professor Flaudette May Datuin and assistance from Nooks Manufacturing International Corp., the first producer of piña yarn from hand-scraped pineapple fiber and hand-picked cotton.
The exhibit traveled all the way to the Romulo Hall of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.
This journey and the stress and pressure in mounting a monumental exhibit in America took its toll on Norma. She would be diagnosed with stomach cancer on her return to the Philippines.
Love for Norma
Artist-friends and members of Church Café, a Bible study group based at Liongoren Gallery, have come together to help in her fight against the Big C.
They feel that now is the time to return her generosity and kindness.
Endaya, former president of Kasibulan group of feminist artists, speaks of Norma as “an example of how an entrepreneur can live and support art and social advocacies, not just for money or business but as a sustained lifestyle.”
Endaya and 50 other artists have donated their artworks to be raffled off on a 1:1 basis, with tickets at P5,000 each. There will also be an auction of pieces which will be chosen online through a website administered by June Dalisay and Sonny Go, board members of Erehwon Center for the Arts.
An artwork by the late Maningning Miclat will be auctioned off with the proceeds divided between Norma and the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation.
‘For the love of Norma’
The event will be held on Feb. 27, 6 p.m., at Sining Kamalig, Ali Mall, Cubao, Quezon City.
An exhibit sale of major artworks includes those by Lluch, Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Yasmin Almonte, Renato Habulan, Antipas Delotavo, Pablo Baen Santos, Brenda Fajardo, Lito Carating, Gus Albor, Fred Liongoren and Nestor Vinluan.
Partial list of participating artists for the raffle include Lluch, Baen Santos, Habulan, Delotavo, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Fajardo, Elmer Borlongan, Egai Talusan Fernandez, Raul Isidro, Fil de la Cruz, Lenore R.S. Lim (who’s also donating paintings by Manuel Rodriguez Sr. and Nik Ricio), Dayong Mendoza, Dansoy Coquilla, Clairelynn Uy, Jeho Bitancor, Jojo Lofranco, Roberto Acosta, Katti Santa Ana, Elizabeth Lolarga, Almonte, Ambie Abaño, Noel El Farrol, Benjie Torrado Cabrera, June Dalisay, Lanelle Abueva, Virgilio Aviado, Arlene Villaver and Lia Torralba.
Aliw awardee Banaue Miclat-Janssen will render songs during the event.
“An artistic life, whether among B’laans, Badjaos, T’bolis and Bagobos, or in private studios, is a life joyful, meaningful and worthwhile,” says Endaya on Norma’s legacy.
For this and all her advocacies, Norma was honored at the 8th Natividad Galang Fajardo Lecture/Exhibit, sponsored by the Ateneo Library for Women’s Writings (Aliww) in 2010.
Ana Labrador, assistant director of the National Museum, said it all when she delivered the Aliww keynote address in honor of Norma:
“In the Philippine art world, who does not know Norma Liongoren? Her reputation as nurturer of artists—young and old—is legendary. She is known to have been a discoverer of talents, although she would tell you immediately that those talents discovered her so that she could enable them in the rather bewildering and often fractious Philippine art world.”
With her work in the field of art, Norma still has found time for socio-civic work with cultural communities. She firmly believes that the bedrock of her passion comes from her faith as a Christian.
Among the many facets of this woman’s fabled life, her son Avid swears his mother’s legacy is “making salad out of stuff from our home garden.”
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