Everybody holds weaknesses and fragilities we would rather mask with a false sense of strength. Cutting ourselves open to find the areas in our life that we feel most vulnerable about can be painful, but understanding that this is a part of us–that this is us, is beautiful. Vulnerable yet powerful.
This is a recurring theme in Filipino-American artist Jenn Ban’s first solo exhibition in the country. The Secret Fresh exhibition entitled Loob opened last September 8 and runs until the 20th. The exhibition encourages you to dig deep and allows yourself to be open; grasping this powerful connection with yourself and finding it in others.
We met up with the artist to talk about spirituality and connecting with her roots, and peel the concepts, representations, and meanings of her artwork, layer by layer.
The Art Style
Jenn developed her art style in 2015. One of her friends noticed how her work began to translate her own identity and principles as a person, that it has become unique to her and encouraged her to keep it.
“Really what that style was, was just me letting go. Letting go of expectation, letting go of making it look like something.”
Her main piece defines that most, as it is the only one without a planned sketch; she drew as freely as she could. The result was a captivating and trippy piece that she explains was a kind of transcendence when we learn to accept. “What really helped me go on with my life is acceptance… Accepting some things for what it is [sic], and carrying on,” says Jenn.
Command in a kind of balance was what I felt as I immersed myself in her art. In detail, you will be overwhelmed by the symbolism and how each element means and represents something. Looking farther, everything just seems to belong and flow. Jenn shares how this precision in composition and seeing things in pattern came naturally and early on in her life; spending church time as a kid looking down on pews, with patterns just bursting out of them.
Balance is something Jenn carefully observes. The intensity of her message and the character of her compositions were tastefully contrasted by the rawness in her lines. Her strokes were imperfect yet still strong.
“Art is imperfect. That is ‘the art’. My lines were never really straight. It is, but it is still staggered. How I hold my brush is unique to me. It is unique to everybody.”
Since working on the exhibition, Jenn was taken out of her usual medium–which is pen and paper–to create more paint and canvas pieces. In the exhibition, you will see several portraits with eyes of lonely souls that she shares are people who are familiar but never particularly anyone. She created these portraits as a breather from painting on canvas.
Everything is Energy
A lot of her work emphasizes a specific area in her body. Jenn shares that she has felt a lot of tension in her gut area in the past although she has never understood why. After having been first influenced by friends, she, today, has been more connected to her spirituality and attuned with her body by learning how all the tension was coming from her need to strengthen an area in her life which was stemming from her creativity and power and the ability to hold that power.
Another recurring symbol in her artworks are the eccentricities of the eyes. According to Jenn, each eye design is different and represents something such as nature, flow, or different levels of you. Everything is energy and Jenn wanted to represent that in her work. With meditation, yoga, and dancing, she has gotten out of a stagnant pit and has allowed her experiences and thought processes that are beyond what my own mind could ever imagine.
Looking at each of her works’ description, you will read the medium used in each. While it is easy to assume it is simply pen, paint, and paper; surprisingly, you will read, what you must have hoped to be a metaphor–blood.
Her artworks have been smeared with menstrual blood, along with prominent gold notes. Some would be taken aback, but it would only make sense for someone like Jenn, who doesn’t use so many colors, would only make an exception for it when it felt right and was a powerful way to send a message. The use of menstrual blood, in a sense, empowers women to embrace this painful and uncomfortable part of their lives; a metaphor not only for women but for everybody who avoids discomfort and has missed the opportunity to be more empowered about who they are.
Vulnerability and Connection
What makes the experience special is also the poetry Jenn adds in some of the descriptions. She not only expresses herself fluently in English in these poems, but she also has them translated to Tagalog. This she insisted on doing because she wanted to connect with her Filipino friends and visitors; allowing them to appreciate the beauty of the poems in both languages.
Sapat ka na
Kabahagi mo na
While some artists draw inspiration from the world outside, Jenn goes to the universe inside; expressing the parts of her that some would have found grotesque or weak. In exposing herself, she holds the power that can only be found in connecting with people who shares the same. In her art, she wants people to feel safe and for her to be able to express her own thoughts and experiences. This is the artist’s goal, creating spaces for people to be free and connect.
For me, being vulnerable is a strength because when you’re able to speak up on it and connect to people about it, it’s courageous and being able to connect people and [sic] they feel less alone and then you’re less alone.
Loob was not just a pleasure for the eyes but an experience of vulnerability, openness and yet feeling strong in knowing I am sharing this with somebody. Weakness can be beautiful if we learn to harness that weakness from whence it comes from and accept it for what it really is. The beauty lies in creating that avenue for connection, not just for yourself, but for all of us.
Okay, now breathe.
Photos by CJ Magbitang