Nikki Luna: speaking through art

by Katherine Visconti, Princeton-in-Asia Fellow

Posted at Dec 11 2010 04:22 PM | Updated as of Dec 12 2010 07:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines - As a child Nikki Luna was a witness to sexual abuse and was unable to speak of it for many years. Art became the outlet.

“Art is so nonverbal, anyone can communicate through it. It will break any wall,” she said.

Luna, now a successful artist, is the founder of the StartART project, a nonprofit group offering art therapy to children whose parents were victims of human right violations. Luna herself flew down to Maguindanao to work with some of the children of the 32 media men massacred in Ampatuan on November 23. Recently, through art activities, she helped the children of the Morong 43 understand why their parents were arrested.

Luna’s current exhibit, “The Easter Bunny—just as charming, and just as fake,” is about walking on eggshells within relationships. A curtain of crushed eggshells hangs at the entrance of a showroom in 20 Square along Pasong Tamo Extension in Makati.

“When your respect becomes fear, you actually form a wall. You’re there but you become blank. You harden,” said Luna.

Everyday objects

 Behind the eggshell curtain are rows of eggs lined up on the cement floor. Gallery visitors brave enough to step on the display will find their weight supported by Luna’s egg sculptures cast in resin and reinforced with fiberglass trays. “You would have to throw the eggs to try and break them,” said Luna.

As with past exhibits, choosing the materials demanded a careful process. Luna said color, material, number, placing, shapes and size must all have a meaning that intertwines and holds the work together.

"Unmentionables", the installation that made Luna one of Sotheby’s top-selling Filipino artists, has sculptures of handguns cast in resin and wrapped in antique French lace from Luna’s mother and grandmother. Luna hoped women would see how a seemingly delicate object can still harm a woman. “Maybe we women should kill some thoughts we believe ought to be or are beautiful but actually are not,” she said. For Luna the "Unmentionables" questions what women today are fighting for at home, in the world and in life.

“My fetish is everyday objects. I use them as a means to reach out to more people. People need to be familiar with something to open up to it. Then they can examine society through themselves. My goal is to make art a part of daily life.” Luna laughed, “Life and art. Art and life. It’s a marriage. And it’s probably the best marriage ever.”

The eggshells in her current exhibit were not bought wholesale. Luna collected them from her mother over the course of two years, insisted on eggshells from meals served to her father and brothers. She emphasized that while the egg is a symbol of domesticity, the unbreakable egg represents the essence of being a woman.

“I often made the disclaimer that I wasn’t a feminist only to realize that I am one. I definitely am one and I’m proud to be one. Being a feminist now means having a choice, without guilt, without being looked down upon.”

Luna actively tweets about her causes and art @nikkiluna.

Photos courtesy of Nikki Luna