Silverlens Makes A Home For Filipino And Southeast Asian Contemporary Art In New York City

Joseph Pascual

The gallery that’s relentlessly championed Filipino and Southeast Asian contemporary art for eighteen years is taking even bigger strides at the heart of New York’s famed art district. 

On the 8th of September Manhattan’s famed Chelsea art district welcomed Silverlens to its neighborhood. Throughout the gallery’s eighteen-year existence, Silverlens has established itself as a disruptive force in the art world as it championed its dynamic roster of Asian and diasporic artists—representing international names like Maria Taniguchi, James Clar, and Pacita Abad, as well as homegrown Filipino artists like Nicole Coson, and Wawi Navarozza. 

Image courtesy of Silverlens
Image courtesy of Silverlens

From art consultancy work to participating in biennials across different countries, Filipinos know Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo, the duo behind Silverlens, for dedicating their lives to Asian artists—ensuring that they’re included within the broader framework of the contemporary art dialogue. Silverlens has been a major influence in connecting art communities across Asia, and giving them a platform to the world. 

Image courtesy of Silverlens

As Silverlens transcends more borders, messages of Asian artists can reach newer heights as the gallery launched its second outpost—this time in the Big Apple. True to its mission, Silverlens’ inaugural exhibit in New York houses Martha Atienza and Yee I-Lann, both of whom immensely collaborate with the communities of their hometowns.

Martha Atienza. Image courtesy of Silverlens
Yee I-Lann. Image courtesy of Silverlens

Martha Atienza’s exhibit of video installations entitled Tigpanalipod (the Protectors) 11°02’06.4″N 123°36’24.1″E and Adlaw sa mga Mananagat Bantayan (Fisherfolks Day) raises questions on socioeconomic class and land ownership across the Bantayan Islands in the Philippines. Atienza asks ‘Who owns the land? Who owns the sea?’ as today’s neoliberal milieu subjects the island to a demand for tourism, the removal of Bantayan’s Wilderness area, the privatization of land to landed elites, and the leniency of foreign land ownership. All of which sit in stark contrast to idyllic imaginations of island life, as portrayed in the media and the arts. 

From Martha Atienza’s exhibit “The Protectors.” Image courtesy of Silverlens
From Martha Atienza’s exhibit “The Protectors.” Image courtesy of Silverlens

Yee I-Lann’s exhibit on the other hand features photographs and woven textile pieces that grapple with the cultures and histories of Southeast Asia, and its relationship with the contemporary world. I-Lann’s work is largely collaborative, as she works with the weavers of the Malaysian and stateless women from the Bajau and Sama Dilaut communities of the Sulu and Celebes Seas. The artist sees the woven mat as egalitarian, democratic, and feminist—a platform that gives chance to both communal gathering and a bridge to understanding diverse experiences. “The mat, to me, is a portal to story-telling and a way to discover and unroll other knowledge,” I-Lann shares. 

The Tukad Kad Sequence #04 by Yee I-Lann. Image courtesy of Silverlens
From Yee I-Lann’s exhibit “At the Roof of the Mouth.” Image courtesy of Silverlens

Beyond Silverlens New York marking a new chapter for the gallery, it also signals a monumental leap for Filipino artists as they take up space in a global cultural hub that’s housed the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol. “I’m also excited about discovering these conversations between curators and artists from over there with our program, with us, and our artists,” Rillo tells Vogue Philippines. Lorenzo adds “It’s a calculated gamble, that there is an audience that will be interested in what we are and what our artists are doing. I’m so excited to show our work, to show our artists to a new audience.”

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