By Nickky F. P. de Guzman, Reporter
GALLERY OWNER and art patron Silvana Ancelotti-Diaz is, first and foremost, a mother. The Italian citizen, who left her home when she was 18 and decided to stay in the Philippines for good when she was 23, has four children of her own. But, over several decades, she became a mother to hundreds more through one exhibition or another.
Forty-three years ago, Ms. Diaz opened Galleria Duemila, now the oldest running commercial art gallery in the Philippines. Since then, the gallery has exhibited the likes of Pacita Abad, Julie Lluch, and National Artist for Visual Arts Arturo Luz.
As thanks to their “mom,” three of Ms. Diaz’s artist-children—Jonathan Olazo, Trek Valdizno, and R.M de Leon—have mounted a tribute show for Ms. Diaz, featuring their abstract works.
Titled An Italian in Manila: An Exhibition Tribute to Mrs. Silvana Diaz, it is on view at Galleria Duemila until Sept. 29. “Tribute is a very big word,” Ms. Diaz said, blushing and brushing off the praise. “It could have been named, I don’t know, ‘An Exhibit for Silvana’?,” she said in an interview with BusinessWorld on Aug. 30.
Curated by Mr. De Leon, the tribute, which was one year in the making, is composed of a series of 26 abstract paintings. “I don’t know if they painted with any reflection of me and our friendship, but there is a lot of dynamic. Right?,” said Ms. Diaz as she walked past the works and admired them.
Mr. Olazo’s works are all textured oil-on-canvas paintings chiefly in pink, yellow, green, and blue. His father, the late artist Romulo Olazo, was a close friend of Ms. Diaz. And she saw the younger Olazo follow in his footsteps. “It takes mastery to achieve this abstraction process,” said Ms. Diaz.
Another artist on showcase is Mr. Valdizno, whose large works feature a regal color palette of red, gold, and black. Mr. De Leon, meanwhile, contributed nine works of mixed media on paper bursting with a cacophony of brush strokes.
“It’s moving. You’re surprised and bewildered and I didn’t expect anything. It brings me happiness and I said ‘wow, I am thankful’,” Ms. Diaz said.
But who is Silvana Diaz, and why is she deserving of a tribute?
It was in 1975 when it all started. On Dec. 5, three years after Martial Law was declared Ms. Diaz opened the gallery in Vernida building in Makati City. Now located on Loring Street in Pasay, Galleria Duemila has exhibited artists like Gus Albor, Alfredo Juan Aquilizan, Jinggoy Buensuceso, Nilo Ilarde, Tony Twigg, Justin Nuyda, Edwin Wilwayco, Luis “Junyee” Yee, Jr., and many more.
“[We] really associate with professionals. I feel that a lot of galleries are giving prominence to young artists. I believe they’re represented,” said Ms. Diaz, on why she has decided to champion mid-career artists. “My idea is to focus [on them] and then inject one or two young artists.”
Prior to opening Galleria Duemila, she worked as a gallery assistant at Miladay Art Center in 1973 and 1974 under art director-artist Lino Severino. She organized her sister-in-law Isabel Diaz’s exhibit in 1974 at Miladay. It was sold out, said Ms. Diaz, save for a piece of furniture, which is still with her today. Because of her success, she was offered a position in the gallery. “It was a big challenge because I didn’t know many artists,” she said. To widen her network, she attended exhibitions here and there, and joined conferences and workshops to learn. The foreigner had to be acquainted with Manila since she was an outsider coming in.
“I was supportive and was there all these times. The CCP came and then MET (Metropolitan Museum) came, and the other galleries. I would go to them and learn to see the practice. And then slowly I met people. It’s been gradual,” she said.
Ms. Diaz’s enthusiasm led her to artists like Mr. Nuyda and Onib Olmedo, who invited her to join the Saturday Group, an organization of artists. In 1975, she was also asked by National Artist Vicente Manansala to be the corporate secretary of Samahang Tubiglay (Watercolor Society of the Philippines), whose members included Edgar Doctor, Ang Kiukok, and Romulo Olazo.
“I am not from here,” she said, “my first priority was to get to know the artists, know their works, and understand their art. I wanted to understand their vision, their concept, what brought them to paint. Art was just a hobby for me, so I learned. I learned the ropes. I am very curious. I love the arts.”
She opened Duemila after she felt that she had enough experience and knowledge, after Martial Law was lifted, and after Miladay closed.
Ms. Diaz recalled the long journey she went through to get where she’s today: “I was a foreigner. Nobody knew me and each one has their own way of business. At that time, there were a lot of revolutions, coup d’etat, brownouts—setback after setback. It’s been two steps backward, one step forward. I would say that Madam Marcos [former first lady Imelda Marcos] in the arts provoked an awakening. She brought art to the fore when there was none before. People didn’t even know what’s a gallery or a museum. Pro or against Marcos, I don’t care at this point, but the thing is that the medium and the art and the culture were brought to the people.”
Duemila is an Italian word that means “the 20th century.” While we are obviously in the 21st century—the age of technology and information—the idea behind the gallery remains relevant: “to cement contemporary and modern art,” said Ms. Diaz.
“The idea is modernity, to continue renewing attention in art. There is awakening. Art is like fashion, there are trends,” she said.
As a European, Ms. Diaz said “art is given to you,” meaning people in the West are exposed to museums, theater plays, dances, and music early on in life. But in Asia—to be specific, in the Philippines—it’s a different story. We’re not as invested in studying humanities, culture, and arts.
Was she frustrated by these cultural differences? “Yeah, I cried many times,” she said.
“It’s frustrating that I cannot share the beauty of art. Frustration for the artists who put effort and are not understood. Their work is beautiful and not appreciated. They put so much soul, effort, anything, and then the public doesn’t understand.”
But the Italian in Manila is upbeat about the Philippine scene. “Many artists are going out of the country to exhibit. They’re also getting didactic. I think we’re on the right track. I am very positive,” said Ms. Diaz, who sounded like a proud mother excited for her kids’ future.
An Italian in Manila: An Exhibition Tribute to Mrs. Silvana Diaz is on view at Galleria Duemila, 210 Loring St., Pasay, Metro Manila, until Sept. 29.