MICHELLE HOLLANES LUA: The Devil is in the Detail
By Cid Reyes
The Feminist art movement has never seemed more strident and aggressive in recent years for a
simple reason that the issues that it raises have never been resolved, paid attention to, or wrought the
changes that it was meant to effect. The decibels of protest have risen more vociferously and, more
significantly, in parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where women have never been treated as
equals of men. This world-wide phenomenon, which has brought to the fore the erstwhile controversial
subjects of violence against women, domestic life as a form of modern day slavery, and respect of the
female body away from the male gaze, is regarded as “the most influential, international movement of
any during the postwar period.”
To be sure, we have seen exhibitions of feminist art hereabouts, instigated and inspired by the
likes, for instance, of Julie Lluch, Agnes Arellano, and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, and Pacita Abad, first rate
artists all, and yes, whose works equal those of men.
Currently on view at Galerie Anna are the works of Michelle Hollanes Lua in a show titled “The
Devil is in the Detail.” It is, of course, a twist of the familiar statement “God is in the details”, whose
origin is unknown but was once attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, more famous
for his “God is dead.” Lua has described herself as a “scavenger artist,” indeed a graphic word that
brings to mind the materials used by the movement “Arte Povera,” the Italian phrase for “Poor Art” or
art that makes use of discarded and rejected materials, stuff from the refuse heaps, relics of poverty.
Lua’s materials, however, have been drawn from a life that devolves from the world of vanity and
superficial perfection, the obsessive pursuit of youth and beauty, an absorption with style and fashion,
on which the American critic Arthur Danto once made a judgment, thus: For conservatives, who idealize
good breeding in all things (code word, quality), fashion represents the ungrounded vulgar presumption
of the arriviste.” In her Artist’s Statement, Lua brings up such designer labels as :ouis Vuitton, Chanel,
Versace Gucci, Esquire, and Zara. Fashion is an aesthetic world unto itself. When Lua shares that through
time she has collected “fancy diamonds from hundreds of broken shoes, belts, bags,” one thinks of a
compulsiveness that carries more significance than meets the eye.
But her other materials such as aluminum, brass and stones are quite the accepted objects in
traditional assemblage. It is the subject, however, of aesthetic surgery that has been invested with a
gruesome starknesss in the work ‘Retokada.” The vernacular title suggests all the physical pain, despite
anesthesia, that a woman is willing to undergo in order to maintain or force her body to conform to
what is regarded as the accepted standard of beauty. Indeed, vanity is itself a form of self-flagellation.
Lua’s work has a brutish, startling beauty, a three-dimensional cross between an anatomy book and a
mad scientist’s nightmare, where bone, flesh, sinew and blood turn into the grisly car wreck deserted in
a roadside accident. Here the devil of vanity has interwoven itself between the bleeding wounds and
hanging sutures. For this particular viewer, this work has the power and shock one felt when first seeing
the iconic work of Cajipe-Endaya’s “The Wife is a DH”, which is an assemblage of a Filipina whose body
was a suitcase with a leg stepping on a coconut husk. Our very homes in fact host modern day slavery.
The work “The Four Ages of Women” is an overwrought horizontal frieze, where the visages of
women, each alone unto herself, emerge as if from a fourth-dimensional wall, festooned with all
manner of dripping frills and decorative shreds, shrouded with stark, unmitigated grayness, a chromatic
amniotic fluid from which our own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters swim into life determined by
biological fate. The artist speaks through her work, confronting her own pain.
In Michelle Hollanes Lua’s feminist art, we find access into the innermost psychic passages of
self-love. From birth to death, women have been incessantly bullied by societal expectations. Ah, frailty,
truly thy name is Woman.