Silverlens unveils New York gallery, hopes to open doors for Filipino artists globally

Rachel Rillo poses in front of a piece created by Malaysian artist Yee I-Lann, who 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.

THE established Manila-based gallery Silverlens has found a home in New York City, in the heart of Chelsea no less.

Known for its robust roster of Asian Diaspora artists, Silverlens unveiled its New York space early this month. The new gallery is a 2,500-square-foot space with 20-foot ceilings located on the ground floor at 505 W 24th Street.

“We show contemporary art from the Philippines, Southeast Asia, from the diaspora, so that’s Asian American and Asian American artists,” Silverlens founder Isa Lorenzo told the Asian Journal. “Our goal is to shine a light on underrepresented minority artists, especially since so much of the population here in America is migrant population.”

Silverlens was founded in Manila by Isa Lorenzo (right) in 2004, she was joined as co-director by Rachel Rillo (left) in 2007. Photos courtesy of Edwin Josue

“We realized that a lot of our audience is starting to come from here from America in particular, we saw that in our numbers, in our website and our social media,” Rachel Rillo said. “And we have quite a bit of friends here in the art world in New York, so we felt like let’s jump that clear.”

Silverlens has earned recognition as one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia as it continues its efforts to transcend borders across art communities. It was founded in Manila by Lorenzo in 2004 and she was joined as co-director by Rillo in 2007.

“A lot of the artists or artists that you see now, like I-Lann from Malaysia and Martha Atienza, they’ve been around the world showing their works at Bienniale and other museum shows as well that I feel like it’s time,” Rillo added, referring to their inaugural exhibitions 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.

Lorenzo hopes that the work of the artists they represent gets collected by major institutions so that there’s a ripple effect.

“It’s incredibly exciting. I can’t even begin, I’m just enjoying the moment. This is only gonna happen once,” she quipped.

Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo pose with some of the special guests who attended the opening of Silverlens New York, among them Stella Abrera, Rafe Totengco and Josie Natori.

The opening of Silverlens New York is a major milestone in the gallery’s eighteen-year existence. 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.

Lorenzo is excited for the New York market to get to know the works of Atienza and all the other artists they represent.

Martha 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.

“Martha Atienza is from Bantayan Island north of Cebu. Her work is really about the community and how to help fisherfolk have a voice, giving them a visual identity, giving them power, the dignity so that they can continue what they’re doing, which is protecting the environment,” Lorenzo explained.

Martha Atienza’s exhibition The Protectors brings together a new body of work asking, “Who owns the land? Who owns the sea?”—questions that persistently come to mind when working with communities across the Bantayan group of islands.

It includes new video works entitled Tigpanalipod (the Protectors) 11°02’06.4”N123°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.

Her work calls the viewer to participate in the act of remembering, as the places featured are repositories of knowledge for oppressed people. Remembering in itself is a way to challenge a system designed to suppress.

Yee’s exhibition on the other hand features 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.

In At the Roof of the Mouth, Yee I-Lann presents tikar—woven mats—that were made in collaboration with Sabahan Dusun and Murut weavers in the Keningau interior and with Bajau Sama Dilaut weavers from Pulau Omadal, Semporna.

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.”

The Armory Show

Through its artist representation, institutional partnerships, art consultancy, and exhibition programming including art fairs and gallery collaborations, Silverlens aims to place its artists within the broader framework of the contemporary art dialogue. Its continuing efforts to transcend borders across art communities in Asia have earned it recognition as one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia. For the first time, Silverlens joined The Armory Show at the Javits Convention Center to highlight underrepresented Southeast Asian artists.

It is also the first time for Silverlens to showcase at The Armory Show, which brings the world’s leading international contemporary and modern art galleries to New York each year.

“We applied for the Armory before we even figured that we would start here,” Rillo shared. “Things just fell into place. We just made everything happen quite quickly. So tamang-tama, just by luck that we were accepted by the Armory at the same time. We really pushed this opening to come around the same time. The stars aligned, it’s showing us that it’s time.

For The Armory, Silverlens showcased works by three widely collected artists from Southeast Asia: Mit Jai Inn (Thailand), Pow Martinez, and Maria Taniguchi (Manila).

Mit Jai Inn, a widely respected senior artist known for his boundary-defying painting and socially engaged practices, presented work from his series Patchworks. Pow Martinez showed new oil on canvas paintings featuring cliché characters, easily recognizable in the Western canon. In these situational portraits, the artist’s sitters find themselves at their most absurd.

Maria Taniguchi’s practice investigates space and time, alongside historical and social contexts. The laborious and painstaking process seen in her “Untitled” brick paintings creates a subtle yet complex pattern on the surface — an ongoing series since 2008.

The Armory Show plays a leading role in the city’s position as an important cultural capital through elevated presentations, thoughtful programming, curatorial leadership, meaningful institutional partnerships, and engaging public art activations.

“We’re excited to be at The Armory, it’s expanding our market. We are doing a national service, we’re bringing all this art into the world,” Lorenzo said. “So we’re quite active globally. I mean, landing in New York is one thing but we do a lot of other shows abroad like at this moment we’re in Istanbul and London as well.” n

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at momar.visaya@asianjournalinc.com.

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