Fil-Am artist Rea Lynn de Guzman: Reconnecting with her roots, heritage and history

ONE way to reconnect with one’s roots is by creating artistic pieces, whether in writing, sculpting, painting and more.  In mixed-media installations, some people would think it is just a mish-mash of junk, but in reality, it is a collection of materials that has a deeper connection to the artist.

Minus words, artist Rea Lynn de Guzman conveys a message of how it is to be a Filipina.

“I draw inspiration from personal experiences and memories of growing up in the Philippines, attending an all-girl Catholic school as a child, revisiting my native country, reconnecting with family yet recognizing the disconnect, and reflecting on how all of these converge with my everyday life as an immigrant in the U.S..” she said.  “As a Filipina-American artist, I am passionate about questioning inequality, power dynamics, stereotypical views and expectations on Filipinas and investigating their historical ties with colonialism and partiarchy.”

Born in Manila, Philippines in 1985, de Guzman’s parents separated when she was only six years old.  Her father then immigrated to Italy to work. She and her mother moved to the United States in 1999 when her late grandmother’s petition was approved.  Unfortunately, de Guzman’s two other siblings were left behind because they had exceeded the age limit (21) to emigrate with a parent.

They initially lived with relatives in San Diego then moved to the Bay Area, eventually settling in the Tenderloin, where she spent most of her formative years.

She shared that although she loved art when she was a child, she didn’t have the privilege of being exposed to it.

“I was initially a business major at the University of California Riverside.  It wasn’t until I attended the City College of San Francisco, where I took art classes on a whim to fulfill some requirements, when I rediscovered my passion for art.

“My painting instructor saw some potential in my early work and encouraged me to pursue art. The CCSF art department nominated me for a scholarship, which enabled me to transfer to the San Francisco Art Institute. That’s where I gained further foundational skills, and found catharsis and more meaning in art; it helped me deal with the displacement and familial disconnect I experienced from my immigration to the United States from the Philippines at age 14. A few years later, I received my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.”

De Guzman’s “Retaso” series reflects on how we view “the ideal Filipina” through the iconography of “Maria Clara,” specifically symbolizing the longstanding stereotype.”

“I am drawn by the materiality of the synthetic organza (organza as an ingredient in the ‘Maria Clara’ dresses, woven with piña fiber) and its subtle, sheer beauty, amidst its haunting/ghostly, and mysterious qualities.  I focus on the synthetic to emphasize its fake-ness, echoing the expectations of the ‘Maria Clara’ embodiment in Filipinas.

“In addition, I select colors that evoke skin tone variations to highlight the spectrum of brownness to ‘Maria Clara’’s preferred whiteness as a mestiza, which has been equated to the ideal female beauty and status in the Philippines.  Essentially, I want the viewer to question these imposed stereotypes, to think about unbalanced power structures and hegemony in colonized cultures. I want my work to empower Filipinas and inspire them to stop bleaching their skin and injecting glutathione.  Shades of brown skin are beautiful and in no way shape or form inferior to whiteness,” she said.

At present, de Guzman is the first Filipina Teaching Artist Fellow at Root Division.   Root Division is a visual arts non-profit that connects creativity and community through a dynamic ecosystem of arts education, exhibitions, and studios.

“Through this fellowship, I will be teaching art to underserved children in the Galing Bata program at the Filipino Education Center in Bessie Carmichael Elementary School,” she excitedly shared.

Her advice to other struggling Filipino artists trying to make it in the mainstream?

“As an artist, I believe it’s important to be honest with yourself and to not force anything in the work. Engage with your interests and passion, obsess, create, research, experiment, play, fail, and try again.”

*De Guzman is having a solo show called, “TL Dreams” at the Tenderloin Museum in San Francisco, which will open on Thursday, January 12, from 6 to 9 p.m.    De Guzman will also present an artist lecture at the closing reception on Thursday, February 23.  (This show is co-presented by the Tenderloin Museum and Root Division. For more information, visit:

She will also be in a group show called “Burnt Rice” with my fellow Epekto Art Projects artists and select local Hawaii artists, at the Wailoa Arts and Cultural Center in Hilo, Hawaii. The opening reception is on Friday, January 13, at 5-7p.m.

For more information, visit:

Visit her website at

*On cover:

“Piña Offerings, Detail”

“After Maria Clara’s Piña Fiber Sleeve, 2014.” Abaca fiber & spray paint on abaca pulp cast, 26” x 48” x 18”

“Imahe, 2015.” Image transfers on synthetic organza sewn together, approx. 24” x 60” 

All photos by Mido Lee Productions

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