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Photograph courtesy of Wig Tysmans, 1985

Photograph courtesy of Wig Tysmans, 1985

Born to a family of politicians and activists in Batanes, the furthermost-north island state in the Philippines, Pacita Abad (1946-2004) was sent to the US to finish her graduate studies after political violence initiated by Ferdinand Marcos put her life in danger. Abad settled in San Francisco in 1970, drawn in by the Summer of Love, and met Jack Garrity a few years later, the two embarking upon a yearlong odyssey across Asia in 1973. While this trip and its myriad multicultural interactions convinced Abad to devote herself to art, it also foreshadowed the itinerant, global lifestyle that would characterize her artistic practice. 

Pacita Abad, L.A. Liberty, 1992. Acrylic, cotton yarn, plastic buttons, mirrors, gold thread, painted cloth on stitched and padded canvas, 94 × 58 in, 238.8 × 147.3 cm (Left: verso / Right: recto). Courtesy the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Pacita Abad, L.A. Liberty, 1992. Acrylic, cotton yarn, plastic buttons, mirrors, gold thread, painted cloth on stitched and padded canvas, 94 × 58 in, 238.8 × 147.3 cm (Left: verso / Right: recto). Courtesy the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Widely defined by her use of color, something she remained adamant about from her early studies, Abad pioneered new forms of materiality in her work, illustrated in one instance by her widely celebrated trapunto paintings, a form of quilted painting the artist originated by stitching and stuffing her painted canvases instead of stretching them over a frame. Her oeuvre featured an immense array of subject matter, from tribal masks and social realist tableaus to lush and intricately rendered underwater scenes and abstractions. Accumulating materials, techniques, and subjects from her vast travels, oftentimes within the same composition, Abad was uniquely positioned to explore modernity’s uneven development with the greatest care, as a figure born outside of the metropole. Her work predates contemporary discourses around postcolonial feminisms, globalization and transnationalism, offering an intuitive understanding of the mutability and heritability of traditions in the places she lived.

Abad studied painting at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Arts Student League in New York. Abad is the subject of a major travelling retrospective, opening at the Walker Arts Center in 2023. She has also received solo exhibitions at the Jameel Arts Center, Dubai (2021); Spike Island, Bristol (2020); the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila (2018); National Museum, Jakarta (1998); The National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C (1994); Hong Kong Arts Centre (1986); Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila (1985); and the Bhirasri Museum of Modern Art, Bangkok (1980), among others.

Her work has been featured at notable exhibitions, including the 11th Berlin Biennale; 13th Gwangju Biennale; 4th Kathmandu Triennale; Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art, a travelling exhibition organized by the Asia Society, New York; Beyond the Border: Art by Recent Immigrants, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; La Segunda Bienal de la Habana, Cuba; and Second Contemporary Asian Art Show, Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan. She has also participated in group exhibitions at institutions including: Haus Der Kunst, Germany; Tate Liverpool; Para Site, Hong Kong; and the National Gallery, Singapore. Her work can be found in the collections of Tate Modern, London; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., M+ Museum, Hong Kong and the National Gallery of Singapore. She died in Singapore in 2004.

Video

This video profiles Pacita's installation at the Metro Center in Washington, DC, featuring her six large trapunto paintings titled, "Masks from Six Continents", which were hung during 1991 to 1995. It also disccuses Pacita's American dream immigrant series. The film was directed and produced by Kavery Kaul of Riverfilms Production for Asian Women United in 1991.

A Video Walkthrough of Spike Island exhibition in Bristol, UK (January 18 - April 5, 2020). Filmed and edited by Ryan Francisco | October 14, 2020

"Pacita Abad: Life in the Margins" exhibition at Spike Island, Bristol was co-curated by Robert Leckie and artist Pio Abad. The exhibition includes over 20 large- scale ‘trapunto’ paintings and other works on fabric made between 1983 and 2002. Characterized by their vibrant color and intricate construction, these works combine a broad range of styles, subjects and techniques, from social realist tableaus incorporating indigenous textiles to richly detailed abstractions inspired by Korean ink brush painting, Indonesian batik and Papua New Guinean shells.

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