An ongoing exhibition at the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art has recently brought to light the colorful and multi-faceted narratives of Iloilo’s women behind bars. Entitled Super Inday, the exhibition features handmade art done by more than 100 persons deprived of liberty (PDL) from the Iloilo City District Jail Female Dormitory in Iloilo City and the Iloilo District Jail Female Dormitory in Pototan, Iloilo.
“The Super Inday Art exhibition is a powerful platform to put invisible women in the center,” Rosalie “Rosa” Zerrudo tells ANCX, “so their voices speak boldly and gently through their artworks that create a dialogue, inviting the public to reflect, listen deeply and support the community healing process.” Zerrudo, a poet, cultural worker, and adviser of the Fine Arts Major Organization (FAMO) at the University of San Agustin, is curator of the exhibit.
In the dialogue Zerrudo refers to, the women inmates are given an opportunity to be seen and heard outside prison walls through the crafting of their self-portraits and the visual narratives of their resilience. The PDLs express themselves through Iloilo’s increasingly recognizable Inday dolls, tangible figures that represent archetypes and entail the process of needlework, tapestry, embroidery, and beadwork.
The exhibit is an outcome of Zerrudo’s curatorial collaborative process with the incarcerated women that started in an expressive arts workshop series in 2014, an outreach project spearheaded by the art teacher and her students at the University of San Agustin. The workshops allowed the women inmates a breather from daily prison life, a brief respite from their congested living spaces.
According to Zerrudo, the psychosocial healing project started very organically. The whole curatorial concept evolved from doing workshops on theatre, writing, poetry, visual arts, yoga, and the like, which eventually led to making the handmade Inday PDL women. What struck Zerrudo the most was when these women shared that they continue to be breadwinners even while behind bars—mothering and sending their children to school by doing odd jobs inside prison such as laundry work.
The ongoing show is all about finding the power in these women who may appear helpless and invisible to some. They tell their own stories, embody figures with superpowers, create their own avatars. “We give them that respect and recognition, the empowerment for them to reclaim their own self-esteem, to feel important, to be visible, and it's important for them to reclaim that space in the society,” says Zerrudo.
If you ask her, the main purpose of this initiative is to focus on community healing—the past two years of the pandemic having been especially tough for the inmates—by showcasing inclusive, collective art pieces done through collaboration. “For me, what’s important is to talk about the healing experience of the women,” Zerrudo tells ANCX, “and for me, that’s the most beautiful thing.” But it is also to say that art is for everyone, and can come from artists from all walks of life—even those in the most disadvantaged, undervalued, marginalized, or invisible spaces.
[The exhibit is open to the public until the end of August.]