Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files
The exhibition of mono-print portraits of 101 grandmothers still up at the BenCab Museum Print Gallery, in its deceptive simplicity, cries, “Women power, women rule!”
Conceptualized by Thirteen Artists awardee Joey Vendiola Cobcobo in 2009, he told himself that he wanted a visual arts project that was important, had the correction intention and whose effect could be felt from today to the future.
But he took his time, waiting for the moment that would push him to say, “Game!” That was the time he and his girlfriend, who became his wife, conceived a child who answers to the name
Ark Daniel Cobcobo. The father considered this boy “second savior , the first being the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He got his son’s name from Noah’s Ark where humans and animals were saved. He elaborated, “Those saved were those who believed in God through Noah and in the arts! I have a work entitled ‘Ark of Letting Go’ based on the Manila bus which had a barge-like shape.” He added the name Daniel after the prime minister of Babylon in the ancient past and considered a prayerful servant who was able to tame the lion and make it sleep him peacefully through his faith and prayers.
Apart from that, he was part of a group show featuring eight printmakers at Avellana Gallery as a result of which he was short-listed in the Next Wave of Ateneo Art Awards in 2009.
By coincidence, he attended a service at the Bible Baptist Church where he heard the hymn “How Great thou Art” while his wife Ella Aquino sat beside him, seven months pregnant. He was awed by the fact that inside her was a being who was also half his.
It was then that the “101 Lola Project: Portraits and Mono-prints” began to cohere as he thought of it as his legacy to his children so that he could someday narrate the story of his life and his name. He believed in the saying “A good name is better than silver and gold.”
His mother Marcelina initially cried and confessed to having a heavy heart when she learned that her youngest child, Joey, now 29, was getting married and a grandchild was on its way. She couldn’t accept that she would become a grandmother so soon. Neither could she bear the thought that her favorite son was getting wed ahead of his older three siblings.
The surprisingly mature Cobcobo boy comforted his mother with a biblical quote: “All things work together for good to them that love God and His grace is sufficient for thee.” He quickly thought of the project where he could collaborate with his Nanay Lina. He described the immediacy of his situation, “Parang now na, parang the end of the time is now! Or now is the end of the time. It was as if printmaking was the only logical means of expression, that lola’s print is the mirror image.”
He sought out women from various fields, asking them if they wanted to part of the project that he was offering to every family in a God-fearing nation. He did portraits of all his grandmothers. For the lola in Bontoc, Mountain Province, who he couldn’t trace, he used his imagination upon learning from writer Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz this lesson: Imagination is more important than knowledge.
He could neither reach other grandmas in Bila, Bauco, Mountain Province, and in Umingan, Pangasinan, so he focused on his mother as a grandmother so she could be proud of his project. It became hers when he asked her to do crochet work around his handmade paper. She asked another sister to assist her in doing the crochet designs.
When Cobcobo’s mom would get headaches from the work required, he’d cajole her, “Kaya mo’yan (You can do it).”
All in all his materials and tools included shifu or pineapple paper fabric with cotton crocheted around it, printer's ink from Germany, flowers, stems and leaves from each of the 101 lola's garden, potted plants, acetate, brayer or roller, toothbrush handle as improvisational tool for hand pressing, wooden spoon, barren for pressing and acrylic glass for the rolling of ink and gel pen tool for final sketching and drawing of the portraits.
He documented the process and data interview with the lolas with a point-and-shoot camera with tripod, audio recorder and a piece of paper. for the data interview. Overall he found the 101 grandmothers who cooperated with him “sweet lolas.”
Because of the scope of the project, the exhibitions went through four venues, parts one at two at Avellana Gallery, part three at the Ortigas Library and part four at Bencab Museum until the 101 lolas from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were all represented.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)