Lewanda Lim’s Socially Conscious Art

Lewanda Lim (Photo by John Garrett)

Lewanda Lim (Photo by John Garrett)

Columbus is Ohio’s capital and largest city. Aside from being a government center, it is also where the main campus of Ohio State University is located. The city has been consistently ranked as one of the top cities to live and to do business in the U.S. It is also a vibrant arts center. Every summer, approximately 450,000 people attend the Columbus Arts Festival, which includes activities like street painting, hands-on art activities, and student and community art exhibition.

Columbus celebrates diversity in the arts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the art exhibition Intersection, which was held at the Cultural Arts Center. It showcased the multifaceted works of Filipino American artist Lewanda Lim.

The first part of the exhibition, Telling a Story, was a visual narrative and commentary on the history of the Philippines and Filipino immigration to America. The immigrant experience was epitomized by the painting Roses for Nanny & Nanay (Mother) in which a haloed Filipina nanny has a blonde girl on her lap. In the background are a Coca-Cola sign, an image of the Virgin Mary and a painting of an elderly Filipina holding a little girl. An ironic twist, the caretaking qualities of the nanny make her a saint in a foreign land while her mother is taking care of her daughter in the Philippines. The painting depicts heartbreaking sacrifices overseas mothers undergo, so they can provide for their families in the Philippines.

Roses for Nanny and Nanay  (Mother) , 2009 , oil on canvas, 36" x 48" (John Garrett)

Roses for Nanny and Nanay (Mother), 2009, oil on canvas, 36" x 48" (John Garrett)

The second part, Fabrics Reconsidered, featured Lim’s large collection of collages made with fabrics, yarns and other materials. Using a sewing machine, she created mostly abstract forms and shapes to reflect her concerns about the environment. Christopher A. Yates wrote in his The Columbus Dispatch (April 26, 2015) review: “Acid Rain is one of Lim’s strongest pieces, uniting narrative with expressive shaping. In the piece, lines of yellow rain disperse in the waters above a coral reef.”

Acid Rain , 2015, fabric collage, 48" x 63" (John Garrett)

Acid Rain, 2015, fabric collage, 48" x 63" (John Garrett)

How did a girl from Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, become so talented? “When I was a child,” Lim remembers, “the world of colors, shapes, texture and movement always attracted and preoccupied my mind.” It was only in high school, however, that she became interested in drawing and painting. In college, she was drawn into the study of art history, absorbing it like a sponge. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of the Philippines at Diliman, majoring in art education. When she moved to America, she took more classes and visited museums, deepening her understanding of art. “I worked in various formal styles and media, ” she continues, “more or less, simultaneously, so there was no linear pattern in my development. I learned to easily switch from one style to another.” She eventually received a master’s degree in studio art from the State University of New York at Albany.

Lim employs a large gamut of techniques, from realistic portrayals of people, animals, and landscapes and semi-abstractions to abstract expressionism. “An artist should first love the medium,” she explains. “He or she should master it and use its characteristics to creatively express ideas and emotions.” In her case, the honing of gained technical skills and acquisitions of new ones never ends. “In my fabric collages, for example,” she adds, “I dared to make very large pieces (one being 65” x 54”). Making these pieces on a sewing machine was very challenging, but the results were very rewarding!”

Lim emphasizes the importance of managing distractions in daily lives, so artists can concentrate in their work. However, she realizes that making art is a laborious endeavor. As such, she also points out the benefits of relaxation to recharge energy, and she practices what she preaches. She and her husband, Tony, are avid gardeners and naturalists. “We plant and tend vegetable and flower gardens from spring to fall,” she says. “We’re very keen on sticking to organic methods and studying different plant habits and diseases.” She has found inspirations for her art in the plants and vegetables that they grow.

She has received accolades for her paintings of Philippine markets, which show people, fruits, vegetables, flowers and delicacies. Of the painting Suman at Kutsinta (Rice Cakes), Ruby Tabora Elazegui, a nurse and a gourmand in Palatine, Illinois, exclaims: “The delicacies are so lifelike! Everything—the colors, the objects, the arrangement—seems to jump on you! Believe me, I got hungry when I saw the painting!”

Suman at Kutsinta  (Rice cakes) ,  1997, acrylic on canvas,   20”x16” (Photo by John Garrett)

Suman at Kutsinta (Rice cakes), 1997, acrylic on canvas, 20”x16” (Photo by John Garrett)

Lim has focused on the environment in her artworks, especially in her collages. But she holds dear her artworks that feature her social critiques and narrate the history of the Philippines and Filipino Americans. They hold more weight in terms of meaning and understanding of the Filipino struggles and aspirations. Many of the Filipinos in the Columbus, Ohio area who attended her exhibition Intersection informed her that they learned a few things about Philippine history.

Lewanda Lim has a high calling to generate interest in Filipino culture and contributions as an ethnic minority. “We, as a group,” she declares, “should learn to be more assertive and savvy in promoting our interests and concerns in the greater population. We should be aware of our need for more inclusion. Also, we have to show appreciation for those who try to lift our profile as an Asian minority.”

Lewanda Lim can be reached at lewanda_lim@yahoo.com.
Her website: www.lewandalim.com

Videos follow:

Photographer and videographer: John Garrett
Photo and video editor : Ivan Kevin R. Castro
Art consultant : George S. Garma
Music-audio consultant : Cleofe G. Casambre, M.D.


Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D., writes from Chicagoland when he is not loving the arts and traveling. He is the author of the children’s book, Ballesteros on My Mind: My Hometown in the Philippines, which also has Ilocano, Spanish, and Tagalog versions.

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