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Arts and Culture

‘Reimagining Boro’: Artist Winnie Go turns ancient Japanese custom into art, fashion statements

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — “I love it!”

Art Informal gallery owner Tina Fernandez jittered in excitement as she made a grand entrance wearing one of the shawls handcrafted by artist Winnie Go using the ancient Japanese art of Boro.

“I really love it! Since Winnie gave it to me, I’ve worn it three times,” she shared in an exclusive interview with Philstar.com.

“It can be worn differently as a shawl. But today, I used it as a poncho of sorts but it can also be a tube top. It’s one material you can wear in many ways… And I love it because it’s full of character. It’s handmade, it’s hand-stitched, so it’s wearable art for me.”

Rarely does an art exhibit becomes a mini fashion show, but that’s how “Reimagining Boro” felt like when it opened doors to a select few in Art Informal Thursday. 

Apart from Fernandez, the exhibit’s curator, Stephanie Frondoso, proudly became a living canvas of Go’s Boro artworks with a shawl hanging loosely from her shoulder, revealing the richness of Go’s indigo dyes and intricate details of her handspun patterns.

Not to be outdone, Go’s own shawl stood out from her all-black ensemble, shining like a real star amid a blanket of night. For the interview, she joined 16 others of the exhibit’s stars – her collection of Boro artworks based on personal experiences before and during the pandemic.

An artist for over 30 years, Go made a name initially from making ceramics. After experimenting with different media, she discovered Boro around six to seven years ago and is now into textiles and Boro, which is one of her most favorite media because she loves textiles.

Believed to be practiced in Japan since the Edo period (1600’s), Boro was borne due to lack of textiles, prompting locals and fishermen to make their own textiles through mending and patchwork. Boro is usually dyed using indigo. From peasant work, it is now highly regarded as an art expression in Japan.

“I like going to Japan and there, Boro is an art of mending in Japan. It’s an art form there. And I happen to chance upon a piece that I really like,” Go recounted.

“I bought one and I showed it to Ling and Maya, who are participating in this exhibition, and we said, ‘We just love this whole concept.’ With that tattered Boro that I have shown them, we said that one day, we would like to do an exhibition. So here we are, several years hence, doing this exhibition together.”

In “Reimagining Boro,” Go, together with other artists featured in the exhibition, Maya Muñoz, Carl Jan Cruz, Brisa Amir and Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, aim to focus on the use of textile or mixed media with textile. 

“Using textile is a softer medium, so there’s more fluidity, resilience. It’s so much fun. You’re talking about sewing. Everything is a meditative technique of sewing, a very slow style which I really enjoyed. And over the last two years, a lot of people might really feel that they didn’t have a good time, but in my case, I felt that it even inspired me further to do something different; to do something which is more introspective and soul-searching in a way,” Go recalled.

Mending broken hearts

From left: Artist Christina Quisumbing Ramilo and exhibit curator Stephanie Frondoso, Art Informal gallery owner Tina Fernandez and artist Winnie Go donning Go's wearable Boro art.
Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV

 

February is not only National Arts Month but also Hearts Month – a perfect time for Go and her fellow artists to show how the art of Boro heals in a season of heartbreaks like the pandemic.

Go, for one, was able to translate her pain into 16 frames of beauty.

“Especially in the last two to three years where I’ve gone through some deaths in the family and grieving, and with COVID, I think a lot of us have become more introspective on the different things in our life - what do we want to do with it?”

One particular artwork is literally a heart that embodies the Valentine’s month. It is Go’s paean to her dad, who went through multiple surgeries due to a heart problem, represented through images of valves, wrenches and tubes. Go pointed out a grain-like yet very important detail: a button that represents a dynamite or a ticking time bomb in the heart - because “sometimes, when you’re so full of emotion, you feel like you’re going to explode in your heart.”

Meanwhile, “Hanging by A Thread” represents the challenges she encountered in a culinary school. In its center is a patchwork of a big chef’s jacket to represent that “your job in the kitchen is bigger than your own person.” On the jacket’s left is an image of a small figure symbolizing that in the kitchen, “you’re small there. You don’t mean anything in the kitchen. You don’t even talk about something that happened to your grandmother. You just do your job.” This, said Go, is symbolic of why the jacket is bigger than her representation of herself in the art piece.

Below it is “Blueprint,” which contained a secret message. Go said she likes hiding a secret message in one of her artworks in every collection. 

“Just like a blueprint of a house, we really have a blueprint of what’s going to happen to us. And only the Lord knows what our blueprint is,” explained Go about the artwork’s ethos that “nothing is certain.” 

But through all these, the pieces are interconnected to bring a message of hope.

“It Starts with a Dream” is a portrait of a vendor with images of her wares on vintage buttons from the 1930s. This piece, said Go, says that “No matter how rich or poor you are, you always have a dream.” 

“Pacita,” on the other hand, is a portrait reminding her of Pacita Abad, a Filipina artist who rendered Singapore’s famed “Painted Bridge.” The details on the woman’s hair and body are like Pacita’s ornaments, only that the opus’ central figure wears a kimono as Go’s ode to the origins of Boro. Coincidentally, “Pacita” means “eye of God,” and one of the buttons representing the eyes in the artwork is bigger than the other, thus it could be presumed to symbolize God’s eye.

Likewise, “Little Mends” includes a cross to symbolize forgiveness. It targets to send the message of “little acts of forgiveness.” 

“I think, there’s no one in the world that doesn’t have something that happens to them that entails some kind of forgiveness either to them or toward other people,” Go explained. “Every single day, we can forgive someone about something small or to ourselves and I think things, moving forward, will be easier in our life.”

Truly, for Go, everyone has experienced something ethereal, mystical and/or spiritual, and embodying this experience are two artworks, “Mystical Place” and “Moonlight.” These have Matisse-inspired cutouts that seem to be floating in a sky of indigo.

Other pieces also enable spectators to wander into places where Go went to seek healing. One masterpiece depicts a field of flowers, with Go taking onlookers to a place full of flowers, where she sought to find refuge for grieving and healing. 

Besides being a reminder of where Go went to heal, “Birdsong” is a representation of how nature heals as it illustrates how birds start communicating in the morning – by singing.

From a skeletal work, Go formed every piece by integrating different layers of Boro using running stitches of Sashiko thread, which is thicker than usual threads because it is used for embroidery in Japan. She continuously changed the forms until she was satisfied with every piece.

“It’s really very painstaking,” she enthused, so the collection took two years to complete.

The opuses looked all the more natural thanks to their customized, handmade frames repurposed by an artist framer using repurposed wood from beaches and farms. 

From indigo dying over denim for seven to eight years now, to making Boro for herself and her family and friends, Go is now planning to create a capsule collection of wearable art using Boro – not only to spark a fashion trend, but to promote Boro or recycling as a way of life.

“I’m hoping that people will look at the art and the substance behind it,” she said.

“I hope that when people buy art, they see more than just the name of the person. But they see what’s behind the sentiment. They see what’s the reason why people do art. And I think when you do things with your heart, with your passion, with reasons that really make sense, with lifetime experiences and deep meanings behind it and it speaks to you, it makes that piece of art more meaningful.” — Video by Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV

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"Reimagining Boro," runs until March 16 in Art Informal Gallery 2, The Alley at Karrivin, Chino Roces Ext. in Makati City. 

RELATED: Valentine's 2022: 'Reimagining Boro' exhibit explores link between patchwork, patching up relationships

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