Martha Atienza Takes Home the Baloise Art Prize

Arts & Culture

August 10, 2017 | BY Philippine Tatler

"They are fighting underwater. It shows survival. As they push through the currents, they themselves destroy what they live off from," Martha Atienza talks about her latest work, which won the coveted Baloise Art Prize

____2_martha atienza_our islands11┬░16'58.4_N 123┬░45'07.0_E.jpgMartha Atienza | Silverlens Galleries

Dutch-Filipino artist Martha Atienza recently won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel Statements for her work Our Islands 11°16’58.4”N 123°45’07.0”E.

The winning piece depicts the people of Bantayan Island in Cebu as they practice the Ati-Atihan ritual under the sea. It's an over-a-minute video loop with no audio and yet its depiction of the ritual was haunting and thought-provoking. Made up of a six-screen life-sized projection of an underwater procession moving from one wall to the next. It shows a procession of people in varying costumes ranging from religious to pop culture.

___INSTALLATION_MA_OUR-ISLANDS.jpgArt Basel Switzerland 2017 | Silverlens Galleries

As Ati-Atihan is also interpreted to this day infused with references from current events, Atienza's piece goes beyond the colour and exuberance seen within the frame. "It is more important to note that the whole phenomenon such as the Ati-Atihan is essentially derived from the community's involvement," Atienza said in an interview. 

Fair isle 59°41'20.0"N 2°36'23.0"W from Martha Atienza on Vimeo. Exhibited at the Art Fair Philippines 2016

Our Islands, 11°16'58.4"N 123°45'07.0"E resorts to a necessary form for the Ati-Atihan—one whose procession is submerged under the seas of Bantayan Island, ascribing to specific coordinates which were chosen by the fishermen themselves according to the tide, current, and time of day. The men, whom all are fisher-folk and volunteer Ati-Atihan dancers, are clad in the same costumes they’d typically wear during the festival on the surface. These men, who have also worked as compressor divers, walk over the almost barren and lifeless reef, whose colors are now drab and are outshone by the red, velvet capes or golden kilts worn by them. “Attention has to be redirected in some way,” Atienza said after making the video. “Back to a place where awareness about the environment and marine life’s condition in particular can be included in discussions.”

One of the pressing issues in Bantayan Island is the damage that the fishing industry puts on marine life. The life between reefs have slowly dwindled away due to illegal practices in fishing and diving. Atienza, who has continually immersed herself within the practices of the community has come to understand far better the underlying conditions it stems from, which are impoverishment and unawareness.

___MA_OUR ISLANDS_PREV 2 copy.jpgMartha Atienza | Silverlens Galleries

“The problem we face, not only on Bantayan Island, not only in the Philippines but around the world, is climate change. To address this is of utmost importance. So we have as our main problems: people destroying (nature) through illegal activities and nature itself.”

“They are fighting underwater. It shows survival. As they push through the currents, they themselves destroy what they live off from,” says Atienza. The Ati-Atihan under the sea sends across a most fundamental message to the fishermen who they themselves took part in—that life can be the same from above as below, that our rituals resonate throughout parts where we also tread for our sustenance. And that both sacred and the necessary should attain a kind of balance. “This is the reality that we face. We need to change our ways but we also need to realize that the seas are changing and destruction is here. We have nothing to catch anymore. It is time to unite and tackle these issues together.”

“They are fighting underwater. It shows survival. As they push through the currents, they themselves destroy what they live off from,” Atienza said. She won alongside American artist Sam Pulitzer. Apart from the CHF 30,000 prize, Atienza’s and Pulitzer’s works will be acquired by Baloise Group and will be donated to the Nationalgalerie-Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the MUDAM, Luxembourg. 

Every year since 1999 the Baloise Group has awarded two young artists its Baloise Art Prize. It is Baloise's way of supporting the development of young, rising talents. The Baloise Art Prize has become a prestigious accolade. The awards are presented to the winning artists and galleries at the high-profile Art Basel international fair. In addition to this publicity, the artists are also given the opportunity to have their works displayed in a distinguished art museum. Baloise invites it top customers to these endowment events and uses them to strengthen links with the local cultural media.

Many of the previous prize winners are now leading lights in the international art scene and act as cultural ambassadors for their country at the Venice Biennale.

Born in Manila to a Dutch mother and a Filipino father, Atienza has moved between both countries and cultures throughout her life. In 2006, she received a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts  from the Academy of Visual Arts and Design in the Netherlands. She also participated at the art programme at the Kuvataideakatemia in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005. Previously she exhibited video art, often described as snapshots of reality, as part of installations at galleries. Her works have been exhibited internationally at various art spaces, galleries and video festivals. In 2009, she joined a residency in Green Papaya Project space in the Philippines. She recently was awarded the Ateneo Arts Award with studio Residency Grants in Liverpool, Melbourne, New York and Singapore. In 2015, she was one of the recipients of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines' Thirteen Artists Award.

Currently, Atienza's video installations are exhibited at the Mind Set Art Centre in Taiwan for her solo exhibition there which runs from July 29 to August 26. This is also the first exhibition dedicated to a video artist held by the said venue since it opened in 2010.

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