Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Turalba’s tapestry—her focus on bullets: Art of rebuilding life and facing its traumas

She compares the act of cutting leather to breaking plates— ‘a way of expressing my anger.’ Click.Share.Tag. on exhibit at Salcedo Auctions

On Sept. 26, 2006, Josephine “Jing” Llamas Turalba, a jewelry designer, was on her way to a shoot when she received the news of her father’s tragic death from a gunshot wound, a crime that remains unsolved.

“When I heard the news, I was shocked,” recalled Turalba.

Some time later, while cleaning her apartment, Turalba discovered a bag of bullet casings belonging to her husband, Antonio “Toti” Turalba Jr., a second-generation architect and developer and a competitive shooter. The stash was for his sport.

“Finding them forced me to confront how I would navigate our life together,” Turalba said. “How could I find peace with this? This experience eventually evolved into my work with metal—discarded bullet casings, metal sheets, and plastic shotguns became my artistic medium.”

“The immediate aftermath of my father’s death heavily influenced my initial work, which focused on bullet fragments,” she told in an online interview last week while she was in the UK working on her doctorate in Studio Art at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. “These fragments manifested in performances and sculptures. At the time, the bullet casings terrified me. Yet, by working with them, I discovered a way to neutralize their psychological hold over me.”

Turalba, an artist, academic, and administrator, discussed how her experiences with trauma influenced her art. In her studio, wall reliefs and performance costumes are constructed from bullet casings. Videos depict Turalba, clad in helmet, vest, and skirt assembled from hammered and empty shells, walking through violence-stricken cities, including Marawi, after the 2017 siege.

Her  extensive use of bullets in her art led her to explore gun shops, where she discovered the potential of using leather from holsters. “Visiting leather shops,” she explained, “I found colorful scrap materials. They became a painter’s palette, inspiring this artistic sensibility.”

In 2015, Turalba created Click.Share.Tag., a tapestry composed of colorful leather cut-outs held together by grommets, rivets, and waxed threads. Originally designed for the expansive wall at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the tapestry comprises 10 patchwork panels. Each panel functions as a vignette, showcasing memories from Manila and her travels, alongside allusions to her father.

The tapestry is on exhibit at Salcedo Auctions from May 15 to 25.

The title, Click.Share.Tag., cleverly references the stages of audience engagement prevalent in social media. The second panel depicts a girl taking a lighthearted selfie, a contrast against a boy engrossed in taking photos using a traditional camera. The final panel, a patchwork image of a photographer holding a camera, reflects our modern tendency to constantly capture moments, share them across various platforms, and tag friends. Turalba’s artist statement encourages viewers to “step into the photographer’s perspective and see the world through his eyes.”

The tapestry features impressions from her past and from her travels, woven into a narrative. Each panel serves as a personal reflection on a specific experience in her life.

The first panel showcases a happy memory from her time in Boston. It captures the distinct brownstone architecture, vibrant graffiti, and a surreal mural depicting falling cars. During this period, her children were studying in Boston, and she had a fellowship at the MIT Future Heritage Lab.

In other panels, Turalba juxtaposes impressions from Istanbul, such as a Turkish woman observing the world from a window ledge and a majestic mosque, with the more chaotic scenes of Manila. One panel portrays the irony of a man perched on a rooftop constructed from flimsy galvanized iron sheets, a structure vulnerable to typhoons, while observing the construction of towering, engineered high-rises.

The tapestry incorporates various elements that capture the distinct visual language of Manila: hanging laundry, the horse-drawn carriage (kalesa), and the ubiquitous billboards. Turalba includes a nostalgic touch with the image of sorbetero Mang Nick and his dirty ice cream cart, a memory from her childhood. Additionally, she weaves in religious iconography like the crucifix and a woman kneeling in prayer, practices that contrasted against those of fundamentalist Christians who once attempted to convert her.

The fourth panel features a sign for a repair shop called “Mr. Shot Quic,” with two angled boots resembling revolvers. This imagery clearly references her father’s tragic passing. Other panels incorporate the number “13,” his favorite, and a figure with a raised hand, believed to represent his position when he was found.

“The tapestry is a blend of personal memories and unresolved issues that I’m grappling with,” Turalba explained. “It reflects elements from my subconscious.”

“The exploration with guns and bullets led me to leather and its colors,” she said. “I became engrossed in cutting and hammering copper. It was a way of expressing my anger.” Turalba compared the act of cutting leather to breaking plates as a means of releasing rage. “I became fixated on cutting and shaping the leather pieces. The process of cutting the material and sewing it back together served as a metaphor for experiencing a breakdown in life, and then rebuilding the fragments.”

Turalba’s artistic approach to the tapestry draws inspiration from the jewelry design process. “It’s similar to arranging gemstones,” she explained. She laid out the colored leather pieces in front of her and moved them around, using photographs and other images as source material for shapes. Once she had a composition, she began cutting and designing the individual elements

Turalba is a multi-talented artist with impressive academic credentials. Though she initially studied psychology at the University of the Philippines, her passion for the arts ultimately led her down a different path. After honing her skills in painting courses taken in Paris, she returned home to work for her mother’s jewelry design shop. There, she gained experience in various aspects of the business, including design, management, marketing, and export.

Following a successful 18-year career as a jewelry designer, Turalba decided to fully pursue her artistic calling. She furthered her education, earning an Advanced Masters in Research from Sint-Lucus Antwerpen and an MFA in New Media from the Transart Institute in New York. Her artwork often explores themes of the precarious geopolitical climate, the lingering effects of trauma, and the creation of spaces for empathy and healing.

Turalba’s impressive background extends beyond her artistic endeavors. She served as dean of the Philippine Women’s University School of Fine Arts and Design, and holds the position of director for PWU Arts-Based Research.

Asked if she has fully come to terms with her father’s demise, her own words offered a sense of closure. Turalba acknowledged that the gun and bullets were simply tools used in the crime, and the true blame lay with the culprit.

Creating the tapestry nearly a decade ago likely served as a cathartic experience. Turalba’s mention of the “deeper place” associated with stitching suggested a process of self-healing. She said the act of stitching the various elements together could be interpreted as a metaphor for piecing together her own emotional state.

About author


She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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