Blooming in Every Season, This UP Professor Unmasks The Inspirational Story Behind Her Art
Gari Sy Rivera | March 04, 2020
Contemporary artist, mentor, and renowned University of the Philippines professor Yasmin Almonte launched her solo exhibition, Unmasked, in Pineapple Lab Gallery in Poblacion, Makati. Shown from 20 January to 2 February 2020, the exhibition is said to be one of the artist’s last ones.
Known for her talent, growth, and past exhibitions throughout the years such as Ngiti, featuring her old sketches and paintings from her diary, and Journey, where portraits of key pieces in her life were shown, Yasmin shares her life through art without constraint. “When I work, I don’t have a preconceived idea of what I am going to paint. It’s just like I feel something and I always have the need to express myself through painting,” she says, “I express everything through my artwork.”
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Unveiling her beautifully painted works for Unmasked, Yasmin revealed her unlikely muse. “You know how there are times when memories hit you and you start to feel like: 'Oh! I don’t want to remember them, but they won’t go away?' I decided I’m going to purge with them. I paint them and let them go,” referring to the emotional turmoil of her personal battle with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, a rare type of cancer affecting numerous parts of the body such as the bones, cartilages, and muscles, “I was given 3 months to live,” she tears up while recalling, “It hit me like a brick wall. I thought, 'Oh my God, everything would be over? All the things that I worked for and the people I love, I wouldn’t be with them anymore?'”
She was told to prepare for the possibility of having to surgically remove her right eye. In frustration and disbelief, it was only natural for the artist to feel pain from the idea of losing a part of her that she uses in practicing her passion and life’s work. “I cried, 'No, God, no. Please! Not my eyes, not my hands. No, no, not my head, not my brain because I need my brain, I need my hands, I need my eyes.” She was counseled by one doctor to stop painting and teaching but to do so would have been an unimaginable loss for her, “It was like taking the life out of me.”
Fighting for the life she had built and painted, Yasmin harnessed her art as a tool through her journey of conquering cancer. “I found my solace. I found my release—I went through the stages. I’d cry, I’d beg, I’d be angry. I painted all of it. Finally, I had all these paintings around me,” she shares, “Art has always been an outlet. It has enabled me to cope with all of what life has given me.”
Truthful to the exhibition’s title, Yasmin proudly presented her story through her works and everyday life. “The pieces’ titles give snippets and clues of what I’m feeling, but it’s Unmasked because I laid myself bare with the feelings that I have,” she reveals, “As I revealed myself through my works, I also unmasked myself.”
Most of the exhibit was centered on flowers. “I am able to express myself through these flowers and these were emotions that I felt at a particular moment in time,” Yasmin reveals. While most of the flowers portrayed were dying, they still managed to express joy, life, and dancing, despite their condition, “All these paintings speak of hope. There’s so much activity going on, there’s so much movement—the colors move so fast. I likened it to a dance. Life is beautiful."
For a piece called Beyond Memory, Yasmin captured the unfilled outlines of flowers in bloom as a representation of the marks that memories leave behind. “Sometimes, I want to hold onto some of those memories but they are no longer there, she explains, “I decided to just keep the preliminary drawing underneath like the memories, and paint the background because what’s left is what’s here.”
Yasmin Almonte’s creativity, perseverance, strength, and youthful energy serve as an inspiration to her family, students, fellow artists. Just like the flowers depicted in her work, she blooms and dances through every season. “I decided that each year that I celebrate another year on earth is such a tremendous gift. How can I share that joy? How can I share my love? How can I share my gratitude? It is through painting.”