In a world filled with brilliant economists, lawyers, and academics, art is a discipline that is often overlooked. Capitalism’s grasp on society has made identifying as an artist an act of bravery, defying the path towards becoming what is defined as traditionally successful.
Lilianna Manahan is an artist who has dedicated her life to her love for the arts. She was born to a family whose passion lies in the same discipline as hers, eventually influencing her to be involved in the industry herself. However, her journey to embodying her artistic identity did not come unchallenged. Although she was drawing and tinkering at a young age, she dabbled with the idea of going into medicine as a career—quite a far cry from being an artist. Nevertheless, her journey is proof that if you are called to be an instrument of the arts, you have a duty to answer.
In her later years, she finished her Foundation Studies at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design in London. In 2004, she went on to complete her BFA in industrial design at the University of the Philippines. Now, she is an established artist who has proven herself to be the definition of Filipino excellence.
“I think art was something I grew into. It was always around me, so I guess when I was picking my college course, I just naturally went that way,” she says. “I entertained the idea of becoming a doctor and a chef, but when it came down to it, I realized I could not do without drawing. That’s what really made me go that way.”
She’s the daughter of foremost TV and stage director Johnny Manahan and Tats, a writer, an outspoken member of the Philippine art cognoscenti, and a mover in heritage conservation.
With a mind that thinks in color and hands that effortlessly translate her visions, Manahan now designs under her own name and makes art that expresses who she is. She has explored multiple mediums, working with materials such as metal, stone, and ceramics, naturally catapulting her into creating and designing homeware. Her designs are whimsical with an industrial touch. Think of Alice in Wonderland but set in the city—just as vibrant, just as mischievous, but with a sharp, modern edge.
‘During the lockdowns, all I was seeing were my plants and the sky’
However, COVID-19’s arrival came at a time of a creative slump in Manahan’s life, an uneasy feeling for any artist, when ideas are not ignited and hands are not being put to work. The drought in one’s mind cannot be cured without drops of inspiration. But when the pandemic hit, what was an artist to do? Lockdown was implemented, and the things that would usually spark ideas were on the other side of a glass window. Manahan managed to turn a dire situation around by learning a new skill: jewelry making. It was then, amid a pandemic, in the confines of her home, that she found her inspiration for her next project.
“A lot of my inspiration comes from the Bible, because that is where my faith is…but during the lockdowns, all I was seeing were my plants and the sky, so I started to zoom in on the little details. I started to take advantage of all the online concerts and free museum tours they were giving. I was making use of everything around me.”
Although new at this skill, Manahan quickly developed her own style and interpretation. Her new collection, Funk in Flux, is a reflection of her fascination with the transient state of the in-between—when things are shifting from then to now, or when an object is on the cusp of taking its final form. It is an ode to God’s creations, in whatever phase they may be in, to remind us of the masterpiece that is life. With each piece of jewelry, handmade to represent the curves, spirals, and lines that make us whole, it is a gift to the wearer to interpret it however they may choose.
“There’s a lot in creation I’m learning about. The forms are based on what I imagine creation to be, between the time before it was formed and the time it was. It is based on Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 2: ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths and the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then He says, let there be light.’ All the inspiration for this collection came from there.”
It is in these unprecedented times that self-reflection becomes inevitable. However, looking inward may reveal unanswered questions, some harder to face than others. For Manahan, it was no different. Considering her background and training, she sits at the border of art and design. Her struggle lies in asking which description she identifies with—artist or designer? She has found that she defines herself as both, refusing to limit herself or her potential.
“I am a multi-disciplinary artist. I am in between the lines of art and design. There is a whole discussion of how to categorize each. Design is functional and art is more like a painting, but as I was going along, I decided I was both.”
To her, being an artist is understanding the value of creation. It is not just about the mere presentation of an object, but the process of making your emotions into something tangible—to offer the world a peek into your mind’s eye, yet not revealing too much of your inner thoughts. It is a complex balance of both, to reveal parts of yourself you usually would not, but also leaving things to the imagination. To do so takes time, patience, and most of all, talent—something Manahan has proven to have plenty of.
‘People see art as luxury, but art is necessity…’
“People see art as a luxury, something you would have as extra, but art is a necessity because what is behind it is creativity. Without creative people, we would not be able to see things in a different way. When you read a book, there are some truths about life that are told in a different way, like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia.”
The artistic mind doesn’t go by the linear pattern of thinking, something more prevalent in doctors and engineers. The intrapersonal ability to explore your own thoughts takes courage, something artists know all too well. It is required to be able to transform something so abstract into something that can stimulate your senses. And once that is done, what was once yours is now in the hands of the public, for them to interpret as if it was theirs. “I want to leave the owner or the wearer with the idea and it’s up to them to finish off what it might be.”
Listening to Manahan speak is like being introduced to color for the first time. She is vibrant, passionate, and speaks of art as if it was a portal to realization, an instrument of comfort that should be experienced by all. That is her motivation to continue making art and manifesting her thoughts in her creations. Her newest collection leaves an important message for those who choose to see it: it tells a story of how creation is constant. It ebbs and flows from beginning to end, just as our own Creator has made it. To partake in this collection is to remind yourself of that every day, and to say thank you to the universe and yourself for constantly being in the in-between.
The Funk in Flux collection is available on her website: https://www.liliannamanahan.com/2021
“I always struggled with the idea of an artist because I was not sure what the purpose of an artist would be. When you go to the bank, the occupation is not even on the forms. I’m categorized as ‘others.’”
“Everyone is creative, like mathematicians are able to create a problem and solve it. But artists are able to create and express something. And that’s what we need to feed the soul.”
In Liliana Manahan’s own words:
This is my first collection to launch the website.
Its aesthetic bounces off my fascination with the beginnings of the story of creation and the music and art I love had immersed myself with, especially since the pandemic started. The shapes and textures all stem from the drawings I have been making.
I see the power creativity and art has, where a beat or even lyrics in a foreign language can touch the soul in a special way and can even resonate in your own life, hence, all pieces take their names from funk classics and music I was listening to while developing the collection.
I had taken a wax carving class for casting at the end of 2019. This is what I was able to shape and develop during the first lockdown. It was not only fun to finally use the tools I had acquired, but it was also a contemplative process for me to embrace an unlikely situation and enjoy whatever the day brought, remembering the future hope that these little pieces will come together to make a beautiful picture.
It is a celebration of the nuances in life that are forming into something beyond what you can imagine.They’re there to remind you of the good days and bad days, and the in-betweens where you create where you are, catch a laugh, or bust a move.
It’s a celebration of Creation.
It’s God’s grand design coming out of darkness to light,
suspended in time for you to enjoy in slow motion.
It’s the accent to your day.
Your everyday heirloom.
It’s a reminder to see the ups and downs,
the spirals and straight lines,
the imperfections and awkward moments of life
Through the lens of a future hope.
To put that skip, run, and bounce to every ounce
In the steps you take now.
It’s many glimmers gathered into one,
till they become something your eyes could never dream.