ART+DESIGN=EMPOWERMENT, MELISSA YEUNG YAP, uses art not just as a medium for self-expression but as a means for bringing her advocacies to the fore. “She uses Philippine indigenous handwoven fabrics like t’nalak, a handwoven fabric which is an important product of the T’boli in her artworks, hinabol woven by the Higaonon of Bukidnon, and inabel by the Tinguian of Abra, in an effort to sustain their traditional weaving, and make it a viable source of livelihood for them.”
The Future is Indigenous By Melissa Yeung Yap There’s a famous Filipino saying that goes, ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan / whoever doesn’t look at the past won’t get into the future.
For me, it means looking at the past with gratitude and appreciation. Like plants, the more rooted ones grow sturdier and is more resilient to the harsh elements of weather and time.
These realizations made me look into my self. As a bi-cultural woman who lives in the Philippines (my dad’s Chinese while my mom’s Filipina), I’ve sometimes wondered about my identity, especially my Philippine heritage. My goal was to look for things that make me appreciate my Filipino roots.
During my research, there was a heaping of resources on our colonial past. But one particular professor, Mrs. Olivia Habana, sparked my interest in our pre-colonial past. This led me to volunteer and work with several NGOs working with indigenous communities. I fondly remember my first trip to Lake Sebu way back in my Junior year in the university where I was invited to document the traditional crafts of Lang Dulay and the T’boli indigenous community.
Together with some artists and designers, we looked into how these traditional crafts may be incorporated into art and product design.
Documenting the t’nalak made me appreciate how intricate, difficult and time-consuming it was to weave. I remember asking Lang Dulay if she had children who also weaved. She said that only a handful was interested because some opted to work as domestic helpers in the big city because it paid more. That sad reality made me realize that in order for these indigenous crafts to thrive, people need to continually buy them.
Years passed and life brought me to different paths & places. For several years, I helped the T’boli sell their products but often wondered how I can do more.
At the death of Lang Dulay, I was so saddened to find out that the pieces of Lang Dulay that I had on hand have all been sold at the Got Heart Shop. I asked the community if there was a weave that I can keep to remember her by but unfortunately, none was left.
During the pandemic, Lang Dulay’s grandchildren asked if I can buy their weaves instead. They said, Lang Dulay has already passed away and doesn’t need the money anymore. “We’re still alive and are the ones that need to sell. We have been trained by Lang Dulay well and our weaves are also beautiful. Please help us as we’re currently struggling because there are no tourists who shop our products and the trade fairs have also been cancelled. Please help by buying our products so we can buy food and essentials.” My heart bled and so did my wallet.
While painting a series for ManilArt, a big bundle of T’nalak was sent to my studio. I continued painting while wondering what I’ll do with so much fabric and how I can sustain helping them out.
I grabbed a pair of scissors and started snipping some fabrics and incorporated them into the painting that I was working on. It was a risky move but it just felt so right.
For years, I’ve been painting indigenous patterns and crafts but I found more meaning in actually incorporating their work into mine.
It was a sold-out show, and the happiness multiplied because the T’boli community celebrated with me. I sent photos of my palette to my T’boli weaver friends and they efficiently weaved and weaved.
Seeing indigenous fabrics in modern homes is sparked so much joy in my heart. It was such a dream come true and it’s continually inspiring me to create more.
It took me years to figure out how to incorporate T’nalak into my art but I’m so happy to finally embrace the process now – of looking into our indigenous craft with love and appreciation, and highlighting its relevance today to hopefully, help carry it on towards the future.
The future is indigenous.