Lani Maestro awarded top Canadian Art Prize


Photo by Mawen Ong

Lani Maestro, a Filipino-Canadian artist, has been given the Hnatyshyn award for outstanding achievement by a Canadian artist in the visual arts for 2012. In a ceremony held on November 19, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Quebec, Canada, Maestro was conferred one of Canada's top visual arts prizes.

Given by the foundation established by Ramon John Hnatyshyn, former governor-general of Canada, the award for artistic excellence is given annually to an established or emerging Canadian artist who has displayed exemplary achievement in his or her field. In their recommendation for the award, this year's jurors found Maestro’s body of work to be “initially intellectually enigmatic but sensuously resonant”. They also said that “this formally restrained work is almost (in today’s context) elegantly classical in spite of the raw emotion sometimes embodied there."

Maestro was born and educated in Manila, and it was here where she started her career as an artist. In 1982, she went to Canada where she pursued art studies at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Her expanded art practice includes art exhibitions, publishing an art journal and artists’ books, as well as teaching and running an itinerant gallery space. Maestro’s work has received critical acclaim and the respect of an international art community. She has exhibited widely including the Biennals of Sharjah, Busan, Shanghai, Istanbul and Sydney. In 1986, she was an unofficial Philippine representative to the Segunda Bienal dela Habana in Cuba surprising the local art community when she was awarded the Bienal Prize.

Lani Maestro with Robert Enright at the awards presentation in Bourgie Hall at the Musée des beaux-arts in Montréal.

Maestro, who was recently in Manila for a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), says it is an honour for her to receive the prize. "I am happy because it is a prestigious prize in Canada that honours art and culture and the diversity of its people”. Past winners were artists like Stan Douglas, Ken Lam, Janet Cardiff and Georges Burres Miller. “It is nice to be in the company of serious artists,” she says, speaking ahead of the ceremony. However, Maestro admits she never expected to be nominated for the award. “I am a bit oblivious. I just do my work quietly. But, to be recognized by a jury of artists, curators and critics whom I have a high regard for… I was touched. I am not usually fazed by these things, but this one really moved me.”

For Maestro, receiving the Hnatyshyn award presents as an opportunity to voice her concerns as an artist. “I have to give a little speech at the awards ceremony. I want to make it known especially for young artists, that it is important to be independent and that it is possible to continue making art in a manner that is critical, social as it is simultaneously wild and sensual … a practice that does not just to cater to the demands of the art market.“

During the awards night, Maestro was interviewed by Robert Enright, Editor, Border Crossings magazine.

Also receiving an award was Nicole Gingras, who has been cited by the Hnatyshyn foundation for curatorial excellence.

"Without a murmur"

The past year has brought Maestro to several projects in south-east Asia, including “Digital Tagalog”, a collaboration with Poklong Anading at Mo Space in Manila last July. Her work was also included in “Encounter: Royal Academy/Asia” at La Salle ICA Singapore in September. On view at MCAD until February, 2013 are three of Maestro’s installations. “Without a murmur”, a group exhibition that also includes works by At Maculangan, Dick Daroy and Maria Taniguchi. Maestro’s “cine-ma” is a site-specific video piece that was first shown off-site at the 2007 Venice Biennale in Italy. In Venice, it was installed against the window of an old Venetian apartment to be viewed from the plaza below. A new reconfiguration at the MCAD reconstructed a semblance of a window frame within the gallery’s existing architectural structure. This then holds a rear projection framing the video’s images of storm clouds, wind-shaken trees and blurred close-ups of a figure. The other two pieces were first seen at the Dalhousie Art Gallery in Halifax, Canada. “mon afrique” is a single channel video of what seems to be a moon’s reflection over a pond, displayed inside a pitch-black room in the middle of the museum especially built for the piece. “this region” is a haunting sound installation with a woman’s voice whispering a series of verses.

cine-ma (2012) in Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila.

The next step

Maestro is currently busy planning two projects in France which will involve two industrial sites: an 19th century jewellery factory in Ardèche and an architectural utopia of a former shoe factory in Lorraine. “I am working with people who have been connected to the factory through labor”, she says. “These villages have changed and people have suffered economically and emotionally since these factories have been closed-down in the last decade or so. There is a cultural program in France that addresses the transformation of the “landscape” in the countryside and for the first time they have included industrial sites. This project puts into question the industrial history and its consequences for the landscape as well as social aspects of memory such as those of the workers”.

Maestro’s work has been presented to these villages by an appointed curator of the program. “It seems like I was chosen for these commissions because they feel that my work could address the human aspect of this project, making a link between the villages and the people who have worked in these places. I welcome it because they are not art people but they see the importance of contemporary art in their lives and they have asked for an artist’s “interpretation” of their situation.”

Maestro has been visiting these villages, developing exchanges with the people as she unravels a world unknown to her, an attempt to make a poetic interpretation of life changed by economic and social history. “I don’t have any clue what I am doing. I prefer to just be open so I can be present with the people, the buildings, the location, the traces of the factories. That ‘s how I always begin with work.”


About the author

Manila-based writer Irwin Cruz is a graduate of Merz Akademie, the Stuttgart design school. He has been writing about the visual arts since 2002.