Pacita Abad at Tina Kim Gallery
For those unfamiliar with the prolific practice of the late Pacita Abad, this lush solo show at Tina Kim Gallery provides a fantastic introduction. Abad, who died in 2004, described herself as “a painter who paints from the gut” with “a strong social conscience” that guided her, over 30 years, to illuminate her life’s varied tragedies, from living under authoritarianism to experiencing gendered violence and racism.
Abad was born in the Philippines but lived for a time nomadically, keenly observing the injustices suffered by marginalized communities across Southeast Asia. The disparate artistic traditions she encountered were absorbed into her emergent textile-painting practice and eventually realized in what she called trapunto, after an Italian variant of quilting. Unstretched canvases were stuffed with cotton to create a sculptural effect and then adorned with abstract assemblages of objects collected in her travels: blue tile from Iran, peacock feathers from Papua New Guinea, dyed yarn from India. The colors are bold, affording presence to her overlooked subjects, many of whom were immigrants like herself.
The works on view include her early experiments in abstraction in the mid-1980s, when she returned from her travels to Manila. A standout entry from this period is Sampaloc Walls (1985), which references the peeling paint common in downtown Manila and the more insidious “constitutional authoritarianism” of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for 20 years. Elsewhere in her “Asian Abstractions” series are references to the complex Korean ink brush painting which she briefly studied in Seoul, as well as Indonesian textiles and other Indigenous art traditions such as Wayang puppetry.
The cumulative effect is a dazzling, empathetic interpretation of the little explosions people make upon contact.