For Didi Dee, lover of life | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Didi Dee with partner Elaine, their son Aaron, nephew Brandon and grandson Anthony


Didi Dee with partner Elaine, their son Aaron, nephew Brandon and grandson Anthony

Didi Dee was always one to push it to the limits.


For almost four decades her name was synonymous with Hiraya Gallery in the Manila art scene—owner, curator and so much more. She was an artist showcasing other artists, her creativity subtly providing a backdrop that excited and thrilled—a tension between what could have been mundane, and Didi’s take on it.


Who can forget the evening she closed off United Nations Avenue? Art lovers (including the venerable Gilda Cordero-Fernando) sat on top of TV crew vans that filmed the scene,  agape at the sight of Bhuto dancers she had flown in from Japan, totally powdered in white, dancing on the ledge of Hiraya Gallery. They minced and tiptoed and swayed on the narrow ledge as crowds milled around on the sidewalks, gazing. It was a moment that could never again be. Not on UN Avenue, anyway.


The gallery within had been transformed—a giant stylized altar in Gabby Barredo’s inimitable rococo metal sculpture (from found junk), irreverently and mischievously highlighting things that could never be on an altar. A magical moment—the ephemeral and the solid, the reverent and irreverent. Only Didi could get away with it.


Fashionable chaos


There was that trip to Cambodia with models, makeup artists, hairstylists, photographers in fashionable chaos. The clothes were designed from Thai and Cambodian silk by   Paris-trained designer Romyda Keth. Against the backdrop of the ancient temple grounds of Angkor Wat, frothy chiffon and shining silks bloomed. Gowns and functional daywear were flaunted in the war-scarred halls of once-elegant French-styled mansions in Phnom Penh, again with the juxtaposition that came naturally to her.


Didi orchestrated it all: early dawn forays to catch a gleam of light in one of the main temples, luxuriating at the iconic Raffles Hotel (which Jackie Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle and other celebrities had graced)—all in preparation for the grand launch of the fashion line Amber in Manila.


Mostly, though, there were exhibits she organized in the Philippines and abroad, for the artists she kept discovering. Each painter or sculptor had his own unique story, a manner of expressing himself like no other, and she was always thrilled by each new personality and his work. It was never just a job or business for her. For them, she would especially set up the gallery and lug their canvases all over the world.

Didi in an old photo shoot by photographer Bobot Meru for Inquirer Lifestyle

One memorable evening was the launch of Mario de Rivera’s “Sleeping Concubine,” when she juxtaposed Gregorian chant with rock and had the crowd dancing and swaying in glee. The paintings were all sold out.


Life for Didi was all about celebration, seizing a moment, throwing in food and music  amid a gathering of friends. Those unforgettable Thursday lunches she held at the gallery brought together gay friends and a stray matron or two. There was much laughter and joy, unique only to creative folk. She and her partner had fixed up a little closet as a mini kitchen at the back of the gallery. Life was always a party;  one had to be on the ready.


Between chemo schedules


My deepest regret is that I missed out on her last birthday celebrations (with partner Elaine) in January, when we were trying to catch each other between her chemotherapy schedules and my doctor’s appointments. Regret coupled with denial—it can’t be!


Hiraya Gallery was originally a frame shop she had inherited from her father. She was a fresh psychology graduate when the responsibility of running the shop fell upon her. Soon enough, the frames with artwork were selling well. Didi psyched people into finding the beauty and drama she had discovered in these, and this was as far as she went as a psychologist.


She was intense in whatever she did—working with staff to plan the next opening, preparing brochures and info material, discovering a fresh talent or tracking down a client, or just having a quiet lunch, a catch-up: She was fully there.


It was always a first time.

Didi Dee (standing, far left) with Hiraya Gallery Thursday Lunch Club members: Rudy Zapanta (standing), seated, from left, Ige Ramos, Ramon Bilbao, John Ong, Ron Gomez, Christopher Ramos, Bien Benitez, Francis Uy, Rene Guatlo and Lito Carating

There was a buoyancy about her that an off mood could not put down. Even when she was depressed and crying her heart out, she did it from the depths of who she was.


She was always true, to herself and consequently to others. And when she loved, it was total. She gave her all. More than a bon vivant, Didi was a lover of life.


Perhaps what might have seemed the edge, the max to us,  was only the midpoint coming from the largesse of Didi’s nature. Her universe was vast—there was always more to give, more to live for.


Now she is in the infinite. There will be a gaping void in our hearts for a long time, with her leave-taking. —CONTRIBUTED

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