Style/Travel Diaries

Lilianna Manahan designs hope
in these dark times

In jewelry and home accessory,
her art turns unlimited just when you need it

Lilianna Manahan holds an exhibit that showcases how metal embodies her faith. (Photo courtesy of L. Manahan)

With pencil, paper, wax, paint, metal leaf, free time and a big desk, designer and artist Lilianna Manahan dove right in to get the positives out of a difficult and dire situation. In the isolation of lockdowns, the world may have seemed smaller, but her mind and her thoughts were boundless, restless even. Because art originates in personal experience, she used her reflections and feelings creatively to become, for her, a defining sense of an uncertain and disruptive time in her life…and for that matter, everyone else’s.

Growing up in a nurturing environment that instilled a healthy and enjoyable attachment to the humanities, it was inevitable that Lilianna would venture into the world of art and design. Creative thinking and problem solving was something that was encouraged by her parents, Johnny and Tats Manahan, who would always help her and her older sister with their art projects and school plays.

Her mother, who’s now at the forefront of restoration art and heritage work in the country, recalls: “We would make it a family project each time, when the children would come out in school plays, we would discuss their costumes, I would draw them, then we would talk about the costumes with a little art history thrown in. Even as extras where they would be Christmas angels, we would make them Renaissance angels. I would look for materials for the right period with accents like acanthus leaves, and make them myself. Johnny, an unlicensed architect, would build sand castles for them and identify all of its architectural parts: parapets, turrets, they learned all of a castle’s parts and functions while having great fun all the time.

“It taught them real-world skills, creative problem solving, and encouraged them to think more about exploring what was all around them.”

Lilianna herself attributes this creativity to different experiences during her formative years.

“There are many things I would attribute my predisposition to the arts. First and foremost, I know God has blessed me with the ability to create and a family and surroundings to cultivate this creativity. The huge chunk would have to be my immediate family, I’d say none of us have a single math or science bone in our bodies. So growing up, I was just surrounded by art, art talk and making things using my hands.

‘My mom and dad were working on gilding a chandelier at home while watching the news on the Gulf War’

“One memory that comes to mind that relates to the medium I work with now is the use of gold leaf. The first time I touched it was when my mom and dad were working on gilding a chandelier at home while watching the news on the Gulf War. This was where they taught me how to use the size (an adhesive) and apply the gold leaf and brush it off. My mom would also teach me what she would learn in school in San Francisco and Italy for wall painting restoration and surface decoration, and my dad would teach me art history and how to look at things in detail.

Manahan’s hand-sculpted gold-plated sterling silver necklace called Lady Lounge (Photo from L. Manahan)

“While my older sister, well… I’d do her art homework! I still use her as a sample tester for my work. I also have fond memories of my aunt in Australia taking me to a bead store and I would just make jewelry there. There was also my dad’s aunt, where I would spend afternoons eating suman and beading with other titas. I had these experiences alongside my formal school training, work, and classes I took, to refine and focus on the crafts that I wanted to learn more about in detail.”

Lilianna finished her foundation studies in art and design at Central St. Martins School of Art and Design in London and completed her BFA Industrial Design Degree at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She worked with global artist Kenneth Cobonpue as part of his research and design team.

In 2012 she went on her own design practice and in 2014, she was named one of the Six Rising Asians at the first Maison et Objets, Asia, the prestigious design biennale showcasing the best and the brightest talents in innovative design under one roof.

“ I love both schools. At Central St. Martins I learned my foundations in art and design. They taught me how to think and ideate by using everything around me, seeing things around me, and thinking vastly. Here I learned how to think in 3D and sketch in 3D using maquettes, which was one habit I have acquired. When I was at UP, I learned how to use what was available and to be resourceful. We worked mostly with our hands and did a lot of physical labor which I enjoyed a lot, so this taught me a lot of lessons and refined how to really translate my thoughts through my hands.”

Lilianna with a group of friends: designers, artists and architects, made a set of postcards and a desk calendar from graphically rearranged photographs of her gouache and metal leaf artworks. Stephanie Alimurung directed the concept and production of the postcards that mixed art and thoughtful questions. Lilianna provided the original art she created in the midst of the pandemic, while Carl & Kim Graham digitally rearranged Lilianna’s art works and designed the graphics that married all the elements together.

Made to be reflected on and shared, each postcard carried a question. Answers to the questions could be discussed in online gatherings, or you were free to take photos of them and post the questions with or without answers, online.

Questions like: If done well, what small thing can have an amazing impact? Who are the people that have been part of your year?  What did joy look like for you this year? How would you recreate a beloved part of your childhood in adulthood?

Whatever you chose to do with the postcards, whether you framed them or gave them away as gifts, or snail-mailed them out, completed the entire cycle of this artistic collaboration.

It didn’t stop there, she has moved on to making other things since.

The result of pro-actively using more of her time in response to the ongoing collective mood of hopelessness and anxiety is a new body of work in three categories that is on exhibit. Black Iron Light Sculpture, Paper and Metal Leaf Drawings, and Art-Jewelry make up the collection she calls UNLIMITED on exhibit at La Fuerza bldg., Chino Roces Ext. in Makati. (Unlimited runs until April 24. Check out the online experience on experiences.modeka.space)

 It reveals a unique and personal expression, offering more insights into her thinking. Her point of departure for this, being her choice of metal as a medium, expressed and applied in different ways.

‘It seems like too much heat, but it is only God who knows why that much heat is required and when to stop’

“The reason I like metal a lot is also because it gives me visual illustrations of how God works as a creator of everything, and as the one who is in charge of shaping my character. As Creator, He also has a design process and plan. And as One who shapes my character, sometimes that shaping requires heat and hammering to shape and strengthen, just like you would with a piece of metal. Sometimes it seems like too much heat, but it is only God who knows why that much heat is required and when to stop. I saw that it is the same way with working with metal, it is only the craftsperson who knows when to stop heating or hammering the piece because that person knows the design, when it is ready and when it is finished.”

Her art jewelry are curves and swirls of gold-plated silver and casted silver neckpieces that tell the spiritual concept of creation in action. They carry a message that out of nothing, something is shaped. These particular pieces are inspired by her readings on the book of Genesis  and the order of Creation.  Post Tenebras Lux (Light after Darkness) are drawings using metal leaf on paper. She uses metal leaf more like paint, where she applies the metal leaf in layers and paints over it.

From Manahan’s ‘Bright Shadows’ collection, table light in black iron, layered jasper, cast silver accent (Photo courtesy of L. Manahan)

Bright Shadows, her black iron, sculptured pieces, address the paradox of needing the dark to see light. Here she reveals how paper easily translates to metal because metal and paper behave in similar ways. These sculptural pieces address the idea of the paradox of needing darkness to see light, and how even in the darkest times there are glimpses of hope. These glimpses are the shadows, not defined, but undeniable. They are a play of light and shadow, where shadows are part of a composition rather than an aspect to be eliminated.

On naming some of the art jewelry pieces, she says: “Cinnamon Swirl and Chex Mix­these are two of my favorite snacks. Sometimes I just name things according to what they remind me of. Lady Lounge is a lot about 2020 and even this year was about the home. My interest in artist jewelry came up a few years ago, where this kind of jewelry making stems more from the artists aesthetic rather than the techniques of jewelry making. I wanted to try this out and at the same time create something that would be the accent of someone’s day even if they’re just staying home. We must not forget to groom and accent ourselves with bling even for a work-at-home situation.

“My art works give the idea that there is hope after dark times. This is an encouragement I wanted to share. The longing we have in dark times indicates that perhaps this is not all there is and that these glimmers of hope we experience point to a bigger and eternal hope to look forward to.”

Clearly, Lilianna’s solid and grounded understanding of the elements of design, from line to form, shape, color, and texture, is the reason she is able to communicate her visual messages clearly. This too shows in the refreshing spontaneity of her works, nothing is overworked.  Central to all her artmaking is an attention to process, detail, and a respect for fine crafting and the handmade. All this has resulted in beautiful and formidable pieces that respect the process of creation.

Lilianna Manahan’s UNLIMITED is a door to better times for all of us.

Turn on a lamp in darkness, see the light and mind the shadows casted.

Catch the reflection of metal leaf on humble paper, the shimmer of shiny flecks, and the color and grit of oxidation darting across a ground of unmoving white.

See yourself wearing forms and shapes from metal that Lilianna Manahan has joined and smithed herself… to become mini art works, jewelry that your body can carry and lift your mood.  From cold shapes now they tell a story, and reveal a fresh aesthetic; one that reaches out to all who listen to her, share her feelings and her thoughts.

It is inspiring, it is brave, it is modern.

Unlimited is at 20A La Fuerza 1 2241 Chino Roces Ave Makati. 

The gallery is closed during ECQ but you can view it online. Unlimited runs until April 24. Check out the online experience on experiences.modeka.space

For inquiries, contact Modeka Art via DMs (09561749185) or email at [email protected]⁠⁠

About author

Articles

A former magazine editor, she writes about arts and culture, both as journalist and as friend to many of the country’s foremost artists, designers and the culturati.

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