Visual artist Isha Naguiat recalls a certain moment in her life where photos of women gracefully clad in Filipinianas were subject of immense online appreciation, noting how people wished this kind of elegance carried its threads into the present. “You see comments like ‘I wish people dressed like this’ or ‘the golden age’, and I have to admit that I’m guilty of thinking these things too,” she shares. She then looks back on the time when she was young when she admired a photo of her grandmother styled in the same way, and, with eyes gleaming with her present wisdom, realized “the real weight of the context of this image as my lola is standing beside Imelda Marcos.”
Naguiat’s maiden solo exhibition at Galerie Stephanie entitled Photo of a Photo is such a retelling of the power of nostalgia with a current sociopolitical perspective. Here, in a somewhat sentimental approach, she pieces together facets of from her collegiate thesis and examines it with a renewed standpoint: more mature, more powerful and more critical of the world around her. It questions how people dwell on memories and how personal experiences influence the truth.
Geared with her use of cyanotype prints and embroidery, her artworks progress from the idea of memories as idealized landscapes of the past—a growing disquisition of why these visual documentations are always more than what they initially seem. Naguiat utilizes the concept of family photos as portrayals of a much bigger story. Her pivotal artworks entitled “Subject” and “Context” strengthen the concept of one’s growing wisdom in selecting the memories we want to remember. Each artwork was made of 50 envelopes containing numerous subjects separated from their background, ranging from family portraits to hints of landscapes, as if quietly encouraging the thought that while memories are personal, they also reflect how realities of the past are carried on to the present. Naguiat invites the viewer to add their peculiar vibrancies to these works despite their empirical detachment from them, calling the experience as somewhat of a “manufactured memory.”
On the other hand, “House in Caloocan” represents more of her signature aesthetic: embroidery on cyanotype prints. Here, she shows photos of her mother’s childhood home whose windows are sewn with pink threads—a tender reminder of how photographs only present a certain frame of a certain reality. Much like a home, this series is symbolic of a contemplative revisitation—of homes, of families, or of memories that continue to reveal more of themselves through time. Reflective of the current socio-political landscape, Naguiat stages these artworks as a call to keep remembering: “…we do have to keep a constant effort because it is so easy to be complacent, look at pretty pictures and forget about difficult histories and feelings.”
Photo of a Photo is an invitation to pursue the intertextuality of histories that once shaped lives—retold, rewritten and reconsidered—to draw out the truths we choose to continue to live with.
PHOTO OF A PHOTO: How Deeply We Remember, How Easily We Forget
by Grace Micah Oreiro