Silverlens presents the first New York solo gallery shows by artists Martha Atienza and Yee I-Lann

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Silverlens presents the first New York solo gallery shows by artists Martha Atienza and Yee I-Lann
Installation view. Courtesy of Silverlens.

NEW YORK, NY.- Silverlens, the established Manila-based gallery known for its robust roster of Asian Diaspora artists, announced the opening of their first New York gallery with inaugural exhibitions by artists Martha Atienza and Yee I-Lann. The shows opened on September 8, 2022 in Silverlens’ new space at 505 W 24th Street in Chelsea.

The trans-continental expansion from Manila to New York marks the beginning of a new chapter in the gallery’s eighteen-year existence. The expansion is necessitated by the growth of the gallery’s program and the drive to bring a broader representation of Southeast Asian, Asian Pacific, and Diasporic artists into the wider framework of the contemporary art dialogue. The New York gallery plans to activate the space with both gallery-curated and curator-led exhibitions, along with artist talks, panel discussions, film screenings, and events.

To commence the gallery’s new home, Silverlens presents the first New York solo gallery shows by artists Martha Atienza and Yee I-Lann. Atienza and Yee, both mixed-raced women artists working collaboratively with their island communities, embody the culture and energy that allow art to be made under the most difficult circumstances.

Atienza’s exhibition includes new video works entitled Tigpanalipod (the Protectors) 11°02'06.4"N 123°36’24.1"E and ​​Adlaw sa mga Mananagat Bantayan (Fisherfolks Day), initially developed for the Istanbul Biennale 2022, which raises questions about land ownership and class in communities across the Bantayan Islands in the Philippines. Yee’s exhibition will feature photographic works as well as woven textile pieces including a billboard woven by Malaysian and stateless women from the Bajau and Sama Dilaut communities on Omadal Island found on the border between the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Martha Atienza: The Protectors
Atienza’s practice explores installation and video as a way of documenting and questioning issues around the environment, community, and development. Her work is mostly constructed in video, of an almost sociological nature, studying her direct environment in the Philippines.

In this new body of work for Silverlens New York, Atienza asks, ‘Who owns the land? Who owns the sea?’. These are questions that persistently come to mind when working with communities across the Bantayan group of islands, north of Cebu.

Under the guise of promised economic prosperity, Bantayan has been subjected to the interests of the tourism industry, landed elites, and the local and provincial government, sitting in stark contrast to idyllic imaginations of island life portrayed in the media, and the arts. Whether it's a bill removing Bantayan's Wilderness area, making available privatization of land, the North Cebu Economic Zone, or the push to allow foreigners to have 100% ownership of assets, a neoliberal agenda continues in its coercive ways of dispossession. The island of Mambacayao Dako has been home to fisherfolk for generations, but as tourism is pushed forth, these fisherfolk are forcibly relocated to public and private housing projects thereby losing access to their coastal homes. This rise in tourism and process and dispossession turns the fisherfolk into workers left with little to no choice other than to work for resort owners. Atienza’s work challenges this process of imposition on these island communities and the imaginations that foster it.

Atienza’s work calls on the viewer to participate in the act of remembering. Places such as Bantayan Island remind us that the act of remembering is imperative to the continuation of cultural knowledge and being; our connections to places retain memories. Places such as these featured in her work, are repositories of knowledge for oppressed people. Remembering in itself is a way to challenge a system designed to suppress.

“On Fisherfolks Day, we were all crying. It was raining heavily. They said it was a blessing. Almost fifty boats with fisherfolk organizations and leaders coming together on water. How could they ignore us now?” said Martha Atienza.

Yee I-Lann: At the Roof of the Mouth
Yee I-Lann’s practice has consistently spoken to urgencies in the contemporary world, from the vantage point of where she is from, mining personal story, Southeast Asian cultures and histories, local knowledge, critical theory, and mass aesthetics and experience.

Since 2018, Yee I-Lann has been collaborating with Sabahan Dusun and Murut weavers in the Keningau interior and with Bajau Sama Dilaut weavers from Pulau Omadal, Semporna to make tikar – woven mats. In the process, a craft community bound to the tourist market has found opportunities for innovation, and a village community has turned from fishing to weaving, in turn reducing pressure on the Coral Triangle.

A unique language of making has developed, bringing the weavers’ skills, knowledge, and stories together with I-Lann’s ideas and propositions, often making strong statements calling for a politics of inclusion: “This body of work claims and celebrates communities and their geographies, often at the peripheries, that give shape to the center.”

Many languages meet for presentation: the digital pixel and the tikar weave, traditional and contemporary motifs, popular song, bodily gesture and sound, photographic image, and script, positioning art-making and aesthetics as a means of bridging and understanding diverse experiences and stories.

Yee I-Lann sees the woven mat as architectural; it provides a platform that invites communal gathering and activation, where everyone sits together on the same level. Throughout the region, all mother tongues have a different name for the mat, but nevertheless there is an unparalleled intimacy in the shared experience of the mat tied to everyday life and ritual. It is local, egalitarian, democratic, feminist. “The mat, to me, is a portal to story-telling and a way to discover and unroll other knowledges,” Yee I-Lann says.

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