By Gel Bobiles

Silverlens owners, Rachel Rillo and Isa Lorenzo. Image credit: Joseph Pascual 

Asian art culture is establishing itself in the West as Silverlens, a Manila-based gallery known for its roster of Asian diaspora artists, debuted its New York Gallery. The 2,500 square-foot space with a 20-foot ceilings gallery on the ground floor of 505 W 24th Street opened its doors to the public last September 2022 in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York.

Isa Lorenzo founded Silverlens in Manila in 2004, and Rachel Rillo joined as a co-director shortly after. These artists were driven to create a global art hub full of discovery by the recent rise in demand for Southeast Asian art in the US. Their vision includes a more extensive representation of Southeast Asian, Asian Pacific, and diasporic artists in the larger context of the contemporary art scene. The opening of their New York Gallery was a significant development towards the gallery's efforts.

Silverlens' New York Gallery plans to bring life to the space with gallery-curated and curator-led exhibitions, artist talks, panel discussions, film screenings, and events. It is a space for interaction, participation, and engagement where freedom of artistic and intellectual expression is encouraged.

Various masterpieces on view during the opening of Silverlens New York Gallery

To mark the opening of the Silverlen's second home, the gallery showcased the first New York solo exhibitions by artists Martha Atienza and Yee I-Lann, mixed-race women artists collaborating with Asian island communities. Atienza and I-Lann represent the culture and vigor that enable art to be created even in the most trying situations.

Atienza, a Dutch-Filipino artist who works and resides in the Bantayan group of islands situated north of Cebu, uses installation and video to investigate environmental, social, and developmental challenges.

Atienza's solo exhibition "The Protectors" was one of the opening exhibitions for Silverlens New York Gallery. The exhibit was about the island of Mambacayao Dako, one of the Bantayan group of islands, where fisherfolks have been residing for many generations. However, local fisherfolk are compelled to relocate because of tourism, losing access to their coastal homes and becoming workers with little to no choice except to work for resort owners. Atienza's primarily video-based art asks questions related to these issues.

Through this exhibition, Atienza hopes to raise awareness that locations like Bantayan are essential sources of knowledge about our cultural heritage and how they play an important role in teaching future generations how to use this knowledge to resist oppressive regimes.

Still from Martha Atienza, Tigpanalipod (The Protectors) 11°02'06.4"N 123°36’24.1”E 

I-Lann, an artist who resides and works in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, will join Atienza in extending a warm welcome to art enthusiasts during the inauguration of the Silverlens New York Gallery. Her primary artistic medium is photo media, which she utilizes to explore the shifting nexus of power, colonialism, and neo-colonialism in Southeast Asia, as well as the effects of historical memory on contemporary social life, emphasizing "histories from below." She recently began collaborating with indigenous mediums and communities in Sabah, Malaysia, both land-based and sea-based.

I-Lann has been engaging with the sea community of Bajau Sama Dilaut weavers and the inland community of Sabahan Dusun and Murut weavers since 2018. As it turned out, she began working on her exhibitions, including "At the Roof of the Mouth," which will debut at the Silverlens New York Gallery.

A section of her vast work TIKAR/MEJA, the project that sparked collaboration with the weavers, is on display in the exhibition, along with a fresh photographic work called Measuring Project, Chapters 1–7. Among the new weaves featured at the show are three large-scale tikar or woven mats. Two of these were from an inland community that uses bamboo, and one huge vertical piece is from a seaside community that uses a plant from the pandanus family to create their functional works of art.

The core objective of At the Roof of the Mouth is to give tribute to communities and the frequently distant geographies that give shape to the central lands.

Details of Yee I-Lann, Measuring Project: Chapter 1, digital inkjet pigment print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper 

The focus of Atienza and I-Lann's works may differ, but what unites their artistic endeavors is their desire to engage with the local community and promote their cultures.

Silverlens, which represents notable artists such as Pacita Abad, Mit Jai Inn, James Clar, and Maria Taniguchi, continues to work to pave the way between Asian art communities through its artist representation, institutional partnerships, art consultancy, and exhibition programming, which includes art fairs and gallery collaborations. As a result, it was recognized as one of the top contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia.