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In latest sculptures, Julie Lluch mirrors our despair—and hope

‘She documents on the body her stories and histories so we read bodies that mean our lives….’

Julie Lluch
'Taong Lumad,' acrylic on cold cast marble

Carolina ‘Bobbie’ Malay, Pablo Tariman and Julie Lluch (far right) beside ‘Touch Me’

Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga

In the stratosphere of women sculptors, Julie Lluch occupies an exalted and secure niche. The likes of Agnes Arellano and Impy Pilapil won’t mind one’s saying so that Julie is not falling off from her perch anytime soon, as borne by her latest exhibit, Chronicles on Skin, at Galerie Stephanie (fourth floor, East Wing of Shangri-la Plaza, Mandaluyong City) that runs until April 3. She seems to move from strength to strength while at the same time remaining, in her childlike Christian faith, humbled by it all.

As exhibition openings go, hers was a roaring success, with guests coming away overwhelmed by what they saw. It was an emotional reunion of sorts in post-COVID times. Present were writers, artists, activists, Julie’s fellow members of Church Café, fashionista daughters, art dealers, collectors et al.

Julie Lluch

‘Pieta ni Raffy,’ acrylic on cold cast marble

Julie Lluch

‘Sunrise (For Adi),’ acrylic on cold cast marble

Even those who were based abroad, like theater director-dramatist Anton Juan, were so stirred by pictures of Julie’s works that they couldn’t help sharing their felicitous remarks. Wrote he: “Julie’s work is significant, especially against the panorama of historical negationism, body worship and gym cults. She documents on the body her stories and histories so we read bodies that mean our lives, not just consumed by fetishist physicalities and choreographed sinews. Here, her sinews speak out the unheard voices from the fibers.”

Former Ambassador Alejandrino Vicente wrote upon reading an advanced review of Julie’s works: “Julie Lluch as an artist has always been on the side of the avant-garde, and this time again she brings her art to a new level. Fascinating work, relevant, provocative.”

Before the show could open formally, writer Jenny Llaguno sent these words that had Julie almost letting go of her bag of groceries after reading them from her phone: “In the exhibit of Julie, sculptor extraordinaire, she excites us with an innovation in art which she alone can undertake. I still have to go see, appreciate and critique them, but already, my cup overfloweth with admiration and awe for this woman who is so full of life, love and strategy to conquer the seemingly untouchable world of Duterte’s hand in the drug- related, extra-judicial killings in the ‘war against drugs.’

“I have yet to fill the full effect of this move on the part of Julie when I reach my eureka moment on the exhibit’s opening, but I can barely wait, as the saying goes. Imagine painting in protest over one’s sculptures which underlie perhaps the meaning, and lead us spectators, to the message and the power that skin chronicles behold, unfold. This is just a foretaste of what is in store for us: knowing in hindsight that this female sculptor that God has given prowess to will succeed in our common quest for justice for the victims of these horrifying deeds.”

Julie’s friend and fellow cultural activist Jenny Juan messaged the artist in our Facebook chat group, reminding her not to forget a prayer of gratitude to open the program. Julie shushed the buzzing, excited crowd before reading from her handwritten notes. She offered to God “the burdens of our country. Help us to love and care for it even more in spite of our despair and deep disappointment and seemingly unanswered prayers.

“Forgive us,” she continued, “for we have sinned gravely as a people and fallen short of your righteousness.  Lord, teach us your love and compassion, especially for those who have suffered or are suffering in the hands of lawless forces…Help us not to forget…and just look away. Remind us of our moral duty to seek and seek relentlessly justice and redress and peace for our country.”

In an email exchange with TheDiarist.ph, Julie explained her invocation further and how the country’s situation affected her on the personal and artistic levels: “In the face of such unrestrained evil, I felt our country was in the grip of a sinister dark spell cast across the land, while the Prince of the powers of the air lords it over the airwaves, radio, TV and social media spreading obscenities, lies and blasphemies. On the streets, the killings go unabated, the mortuaries could no longer contain the dead bodies that pile up so they dig pits where the unclaimed bodies are dumped and burned. Like an apocalyptic image straight out of science fiction but for real! I was consumed with anger and weakened by a feeling of helplessness. Our recourse was to pray. We didn’t lose hope. We fought back with our art and many speeches. We looked to scriptures for answers. Deep inside, I saw an angry God. I kept this to myself, knowing there is only one thing that provokes the Lord and that is sin or unrighteousness.”

Julie Lluch

‘EDSA Chronicles,’ acrylic on cold cast marble

Julie Lluch

‘Mandala,’ acrylic on cold cast marble

Julie Lluch

‘Resistance 1521 (The Islands),’ acrylic on cold cast marble

What particularly pained her and her family were the shocking, sudden deaths of two poet activists, Kerima Tariman the other year and her husband Ericson last year. The memory of the two is commemorated in two busts.

Julie recalled, “Kerima and Ericson were good friends of my daughters. I enjoyed the times they came to visit with their son Eman. The couple teamed up as screenwriters in the making of The Guerrila is a Poet, a film co-directed by (my daughters) Sari and Kiri. When I was doing a bust of Gregoria de Jesus for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, I asked Kerima if she would model for me. We dressed her up in an authentic Filipiniana baro’t saya, propped her up carrying a wooden rifle for a photo session. With her brown skin, long black tresses, slender figure and comely face, she was a picture of calm loveliness. Little did we know how precious those moments were and how much the photos would mean to posterity. My family and I were so deeply heartbroken when we learned about her demise. Too soon, so young, we cried, knowing what risks, sacrifices and courage she lived through, putting service to country above all else. Ericson left tragically, not long after. We found comfort in the thought that the two are reunited forever. My friends in Resbak (a human rights organization) found an original work by Ericson, a fine pencil drawing of a man lying on his back, bare-chested and with tattoos all over his body. He supposedly did this in his detention cell (in Samar). I transposed this piece of drawing on my sculpture using the title he gave it himself: ‘Badi Grapiti.’ Ericson is softspoken, one of the gentlest men I’ve met.”

‘Badi Grapiti (Para Kay Ericson,’ acrylic on cold cast marble

One of the guests, cultural writer Pablo Tariman, Kerima’s father, said of Julie’s tribute to the fallen: “I am happy that people remember them. But recalling what they went through is always an ordeal for me emotionally. I have been weighed down by thoughts of Kerima lately. Yesterday I went to the cemetery and paid them a visit. It’s always difficult to accept that they are all gone now. If they had lived longer, would they have lived like Mila Aguilar, Satur Ocampo or Carolina Malay? I always imagined how they’d live on in their waning years. My reaction is happy but saddened by the price they had to pay for such heroism.”

Pablo Tariman beside ‘The Guerilla Is a Poet (For Kerima)’

Julie’s priorities remain constant throughout the tumult she has witnessed: “God first, family second, art next!”

About author

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She is a freelance journalist. The pandemic has turned her into a homebody.

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