Imelda Cajipe Endaya is a feminist pioneer. Her artistic practice is inflected by community organizing; she helped to found KASIBULAN, a feminist arts organization focused on “crafts that are the traditional domain of women,” in 1987, and Pananaw, an important arts journal first published in 1997. Her work is based on a keen appreciation of social issues and postcolonial politics as understood through the lens of womanhood. Curated by Lara Acuin and Con Cabrera, the recent retrospective at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, “Imelda Cajipe Endaya: Refusal and Hope,” presented the kaleidoscopic range of the artist’s oeuvre—from early prints (chine collé, embossed, and image transfer), to textile works, to large-scale oil paintings incorporating materials such as sawali: strips of bamboo woven to create architectural fixtures in the Philippine tropics. When Cajipe Endaya narrates historical and art-historical events, she prioritizes the experience of womanhood. For example, in the first room of the gallery, the site-specific installation Kapatiran ng mga Lakambining Maybahay Redux (Sisterhood of Nurturing Chieftains Redux), 2022, was an altar to the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of Filipino revolutionary figures. The altar, adorned with kitchen ornaments, showcases icons of saints with indigenous tattoos.
If craft is the “domain of women,” Cajipe Endaya uses it to trouble the discourse of mastery typically accorded male practitioners in art history. “Conversations on the Spoliarium and Women’s Work,” 2004, consisted of collages of silk-screen prints of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, 1884, one of the best-known works of Philippine colonial painting. The prints were placed side by side with images of women artists, artworks by women, found textiles and patterns, and other motifs that derail the classical macho temper of Luna’s painting. Luna is an exceptional intertext in this work. One of the most important Filipino painters, he is also infamous for the 1892 murder of his wife and mother-in-law in a fit of jealousy.
In the nine-part oil painting, May bukas pa, inay (There Is Still Tomorrow, Mother), 1982, a woman dried her eyes against a post-nuclear-war landscape. Various figures—including the child clinging to her—resemble miasmic clouds, appearing to melt or blow away. Leafless tree limbs punctuate the central panel, where the deep-blue sky is tinged with noxious ochers. These themes were expressed even more overtly in the tempera-on-paper works Protest vs. Bataan Nuclear Plant 1 and 2, 1984. These show a woman carrying a child while flexing her fist, which is inscribed WOMAN POWER CAN STOP THE NUCLEAR PLANT. (Conceived in response to the 1973 oil crisis in the Philippines, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was one of Ferdinand Marcos’s major projects during his dictatorship; it was left unfinished owing to safety concerns and corruption.)
In the installation The Wife Is a DH, 1995, Cajipe Endaya allowed a glimpse into the life of a Filipina domestic helper (DH), a migrant woman laborer who works as a maid or nanny overseas. The work is the artist’s response to the tragic fate of domestic helpers, including Flor Contemplacion, who was executed in Singapore in 1995, and Sarah Balabagan, who that same year was convicted of murdering an employer who had tried to rape her in the United Arab Emirates. Cajipe Endaya presents an open suitcase with limbs attached—a hand holding a cleaning cloth, a fist against a piece of traditional Filipiniana scarf, a foot on a coconut husk used to polish floors. “Imelda Cajipe Endaya: Refusal and Hope” showcased an important Filipina artist who has consistently engaged with the urgencies of her time and refused the conventions of fine art in favor of an art of political potency.
— Carlos Quijon Jr.