Saturday, May 08, 2010

Guam Needs Art Galleries

In 1999, I had my first ever one-man exhibition of my paintings. It was a show of about 40 small abstract pieces that I had made while I was an undergraduate at UOG. The title of the show as Typhoon: An Island’s Intensity, because of the sheer intensity and fury that some noticed in what were otherwise very tiny images. Fihu annai i manamko’ siha, ma atan i pinenta-ku (taiguihi gi i fine’nina na fina’nu’i-hu), ma alok na “atmario” enao.

In 2001, I had my second one-man show titled “Matan I Kuttura-ta Siha” or The Faces of Our Culture. This show featured 30 or so, large “abstract portraits.” They were portraits of famous figures from Guam history, and all painted in a Jackson Polluck drip style of painting, where the paint isn’t so much applied delicately with brushes, but rather splashed, splattered and dripped onto the canvas. The result is usually very abstract, but in the case of this show, I used that technique to try and portray different pioneers amongst the Chamorro people.

Then for the next nine years I was in graduate school getting two masters and a Ph.D. I still painted regularly, but nowhere near the levels I had as an undergraduate at UOG. I would paint for gifts or when there would be a fair to set up a table at, or a show to submit a piece or two too. The thought of having a one-man art show however was taigue gi hinasso-ku, something very far away from my mind.

The coffee and restaurant in Mangilao known as I.P. Coffee has just given me a chance to have my first one man show since 2001. Yesterday was the opening reception for my show "Before the Storm, After the Fire," and I'm glad to report that, for a show which was thrown together in a week's time, it was a great success. The title for the show comes from one of my favorite pieces in it, which is featured in the poster as well. The show features more than 50 new pieces, all small, abstract monotypes, about 6 x 9 inches. Last night I sold eight pieces and actually made back the money I spent for matting and shrink-wrapping all the paintings.

As I prepared for this show, I found myself regularly thinking about issues of art on Guam. The great number of artists that Guam has, and yet the sheer lack of many opportunities for them to display their work. As an undergraduate, I was trained as a "fine artist" and so no matter what I do, there are always aesthetic questions which nag me.

Put hemplo, I know that the venue is not really a gallery, and so you could say that technically its not a real show. Or in other words, having your work up in a fanochuyan or in a coffee shop is nothing like filling a gallery space or even getting your work accepted to be in a gallery. Hu akepta este na hinasso, but at the same time, one of the most frustrating things about being an artist on Guam is the lack of galleries here. In other tourist markets, art tends to be a strong part of the economy. It doesn’t only contribute to the economy through the making of money, but also the building of reputation and prestige. It says a great deal about your particular tourist market based on what sort of art people want to take away to represent their journey there.

If, all they want is a postcard with a hibiscus or with manyommok na famalao’an, then it means that your market isn’t very solid, and most likely has little-to-no specific drive. Or in other words, people could just as easily go somewhere else. There is nothing in their minds about Guam that really communicates to them, or brands Guam in their minds. The realm of art is where you can find unique ways of defining yourself and your identity. It can come through means perceived to be "traditional" or more contemporary and avant garde. But to develop that economy and community means to really take seriously the role of representing yourself. It is not solely about making those who come to Guam "happy" but also be willing to challenge them, mentally and hopefully financially.

My two one man art shows that I had on Guam were both in the Two Lover’s Point Gallery run by Guam CAHA. This gallery still exists but not in the form it once was. In 1999 and 2001, the space was very nice, and was something that most artists who exhibited there still had trouble filling. It had tall, white walls, with a large open space, which demanded to be taken seriously. In my first show that I had there, I didn't take it as seriously as I should have, and so most of my small pieces were swallowed up by the walls.

At some point when I was away for school the gallery stopped being a gallery per se, and became part gift shop and part Yokoi Museum. Bai hu admite thought, that it has been more than a year since I was last there and so I don't know what it looks like today.

But when I did visit to see what had become of that beautiful space, I was so saddened to see that a permanent exhibit about the Japanese straggler/holdout Yokoi was occupying nearly all of the gallery, and what little wall space was left, was what I call “bathroom space,” with lower walls, who most prominent feature is that it is broken up by the doors to the men’s and women’s bathrooms.

I am hoping that someday soon, either the public or the private sector will see the need for opening up spaces for artists to create work to exhibit in. It is one thing to just make art and then be asked to display it somewhere, in someone’s shop or store. But its an entirely different exercise to create a body of work to display and show in a gallery. That feeling is something which we artists on Guam are missing. It is something which can truly help us hone our crafts, challenge each other, learn from each other and grow as a community.

But until the day that this happens, I am happy to take advantage of any chance to share my work with a wider audience than the trunk of my car or the table at my grandfather’s shop at Chamorro Village. Hu gof agradesi na i taotao giya IP Coffee, na ma na’i yu’ este na oppurtunidat para bai hu fa’nu’i i fina’tinas-hu. If you weren't able to make it on Friday night, the exhibit will remain up, until it is taken down. So feel free to visit it another time. I.P. Coffee is located on the road to the University of Guam in Mangilao, and is open everyday of the week except Sunday.

Si Yu'us Ma'ase.

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