Cancer survivor Yasmin Almonte disclosed all her reasons to celebrate life in her recent show, “Celebration,” at Sining Kamalig. It was important for her to celebrate, because she has gone past the five-year mark since she was diagnosed with a very aggressive Stage 3B cancer that ravaged her jaw, cheek, the area beneath her tongue, her molar and parotid gland. Her face was operated on thrice, the last in 2014.
For the show, her subjects ranged from human figures to flowers to abstracts, all reflecting her desire to stay sane by being creative and keeping the brush moving.
“The show was called ‘Celebration’ because I’m still alive, I am still teaching and painting,” she said. “I celebrate the love I feel from my family and friends despite what I’ve been through. The celebration is not a grand occasion. I’m simply celebrating because my head is above water, my dignity is intact, although I went through a lot of challenges. I call it celebration because I know God loves me, He continues to give me strength so I can face whatever else will come into my life. I’m still here. I can do it.”
Her admittedly “diaristic art pieces” were mainly inspired by her daughter, theater artist Missy Maramara. “She’s always holding my hand, guiding, understanding and loving me unconditionally. She is one big reason why I’m still painting.”
She considers painting a way of “weeping without shedding tears. My pieces are confessions. They’re my way of attaining my own voice, to understand as to be understood. I paint what’s sad, happy, painful that has happened in my life. This is how I cope. This is my attempt at reaching out to my viewers, my family, my friends.”
No famous Expressionist artist influenced her. Instead, she credits her grandmother Feliza Barela Bautista, a quiet homemaker who taught Almonte and her elder sister Edith the rudiments of drawing. As a child, she used to wonder why the novel that her mother was reading had no illustrations. So, she imagined a story and drew on the novel’s pages. She was delighted with what she had done, but her mother couldn’t resume reading the book.
Her mother was skeptical about Almonte’s wanting to take up Fine Arts for practical reasons. What would her future be? Young Yasmin took up Psychology initially, and even dressmaking lessons. But her heart wasn’t in those pursuits.
Grateful to be an artist
She is grateful to Edith for believing in her ability to study Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines (UP). She said she didn’t have much self-confidence. “I was afraid to apply for the talent test. I didn’t think I would pass it. Ate Edith practically dragged me to UP, she applied for me and tutored me to prepare me for the test.”
Almonte continued, “I wasn’t aware of any known artists then. What I wanted was to keep on drawing, painting and teaching art. I am thankful to God that I am an artist. I cannot imagine myself in another profession. This is what I want to be for the rest of my life.”
She is aware that this choice means hardships, especially on the financial side. She supplements her income from painting sales by giving private lessons for children and adults interested in learning art.
“Fame and money are not what I’m after,” Almonte said. “I just want to paint. I can live without many things because my priority is to buy art materials, have my works framed and exhibit them. It’s good if your loved ones understand your need for space so you can think and create.”
Looking back, she is even grateful for the cancer. “It helped me realize who loves me and who will go out of their way to help me.”
Apart from her children Christian, Patrick and Missy, she mentioned Me-Anne Ortiz, who took care of her at the hospital and the “Go Jigs Fight” fund-raising campaign led by her UP colleagues Professor Noel el Farol, Flaudette May Datuin, Norma Liongoren, the Silly People’s Improvisational Theater and Ateneo.
She said the disease taught her how precious any addition to her life was and how this life was just borrowed from a higher source.
Because of this, she said, “Each day, each moment is enough reason for a celebration.”