M’s “Wild” Exhibit Showcases Women’s Power and Pain

Article and photos by Maddie Castillo

On a Wednesday night towards the end of March, my friends and I toasted to the Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s Wild: Women Abstractionists on Nature, an exhibit that “features some of the most exciting women abstract artists of our times who draw their inspiration from nature, encompassing environment, cosmos, and body.” 

An offering from the M perfectly timed for International Women’s Month, Wild takes its cue from the 1958 exhibit, Nature in Abstraction. In John I. H. Baur’s offering, the focus was on how abstract art can depict the tangible world and how it can represent something beyond emotions painted in line, color, and form. It is the same for Wild; only this time, the much-coveted spotlight is on women Abstract Expressionism artists who have been overshadowed by their male contemporaries. 

Wild exhibit

Kathy Huang, managing director for Art Advisory and Special Projects at Jeffrey Deitch, seems to have curated Wild specifically to provide the opportunity for women artists to share their experiences with a wider audience years after they had completed the pieces we got to see on display.

A Glimpse of Wild: Women Abstractionists on Nature

The exhibit description led us to see Cecily Brown’s homage to her English countryside memories, Sara Jimenez’s nod to her Filipino roots in the form of abstract landscapes, and Mary Weatherford’s take on the coexistence of various industries in California. Through our own eyes, though, we were able to witness how these artists spun magic out of the mundane.

Wild exhibit

Cottage No 3 by Cecily Brown

In Air Pockets, Jin Jeong seems to have captured in color the slow motion of air and the space it occupies. True to its name, Li Hei Di’s The Nightless Dusk seems to provide this feeling of restlessness in shades of red; different body parts weaved into the art become reminiscent of a night of twisting and turning in bed. The browns and pinks of Elizabeth Neel’s Once Swaddled Everso Gently paint an idea of motherhood in our heads, the sudden presence of that soft green, a seemingly loving energy that connects one life with another.

Wild exhibit

Air Pockets by Jin Jeong

One cannot also ignore the brilliance and versatility of the materials these artists used in their execution. Weatherford used flashe and neon on linen to create Turquoise and Cockle ShellsPinaree Sanpitak’s Breast Vessel was created with acrylic and pencil (yes, a pencil!) on canvas.

Wild exhibit

Breast Vessel by Pinaree Sanpitak

Corinne De San Jose came up with The Shore is Parchment #14 using cyanotype prints on watercolor paper, while Antonia Kuo’s Dusk is a chemical painting mounted on aluminum. I went through art card after art card, in awe of how uniquely creative these pieces turned out, and then I realized thatof course, these would look different from the usual art seen in galleries and museums: these are fruits of the female gaze, art made through the lens of women seeing the world’s beauty and experiencing its unseemliness.

Wild exhibit

Dusk by Antonia Kuo

The Strength and Struggles of Women

How could I have forgotten the gentleness that only comes from being a woman?

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to have met and kept women who are beautifully strong and powerfully resilient. They have always pushed for courage and empowerment, fighting the good fight, reaching unbelievable heights in their respective fields. This may be the reason why, at this point, seeing women’s pain has become some sort of an afterthought for me, something that is seen and even expected but not completely acknowledged and processed. Perhaps it’s because warriors don’t dwell when they are cut open, they fight back. And the blasted boys’ club is one hell of an adversary. 

Perhaps I–we–have just been, well, lucky. Taking a cue from Wild’s centerpiece by Jade Fadojutimi, maybe this is our rough sketch of happiness. This exhibit, among other things, has shown how women in art have faced significant discrimination. Their battles are not as easy to win. In my personal victory, have I forgotten those who are still struggling to come into their own power as women? Have I forgotten that the fight is far from over? 

Wild exhibit

Details of Maybe this is a rough sketch of happiness by Jade Fadojutimi

Through Wild, I am reminded that our power also stems from being attuned to our emotions. It hit me like a ton of bricks in the form of colors, lines, and shapes in frames. Mandy El-Sayegh’s White Grounds (Acid) feels like a walk in your mind as you are meditating, your thoughts at bay, ready to be plucked and focused on. Sarah Awad’s Pairing 2 and Cohabitation (Through Glass Darkly) are dances, a depiction of a power struggle between two unlikely persons. Dawn Ng’s Waterfall #3 Time Lost Falling In Love was painful to watch because every color, shape, and movement in her multimedia piece is somehow painfully real. And Jo Messer’s Weathering it throughout is a contrast: painted in the color of joy but heavily overshadowed by defeat and tiredness.

Wild exhibit

Once Swaddled Everso Gently by Elizabeth Neel

Truly, each piece in Wild comes with its distinctiveness but the singular message is loud and clear: I can embrace my power while healing my pain until the collective plight of women is not just heard but listened to and worked on. I can continue to dream of greater aspirations while recognizing the challenges that continue to faze others until the woman is accepted as awesome even beyond March. Because are we not meant to be celebrated beyond the month that society has assigned to us? 

It serves as a stark reminder that women are meant to be valued and treated fairly every single day until there is actually no need for an International Women’s Month anymore.

The M’s Wild will run until June 22, 2024, at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Learn more about the exhibit on this website.