In mythology across cultures, women’s bodies are transformed into plants as punishment for acting on their desires and taking agency over their own bodies. In Philippine folklore, these cautionary tales have perpetuated the archetype of the submissive, virginal Filipina—her personhood contingent on her willingness to conform to the social mores of the time.
Fertility Flowers is an interactive installation of glass, scent and video that interrogates the origins and mythologies of several flowers native to the artist’s home country, the Philippines. In the tale of the dama de noche (Cestrum nocturnum), a queen is unable to produce an heir, and in her desolation, becomes a night-blooming flower. Meanwhile, colonized West Indian women used the peacock flower (Caesalpina pulcherrima) as an abortifacient so they would not bear children into slavery. The cadena de amor (Antigonon leptopus), whose name translates to “chains of love,” came to represent the moral puritanism Filipino women were bound to during the Spanish era.
Poblador follows a throughline from her earlier ecofeminist oeuvre, including Venus Freed (2015) and The Myth of the Ylang-ylang (2015), which showed how flowers such as the ylang-ylang (Cananga onorata) are taken from their countries of origin and appropriated through trade. In Fertility Flowers, she turns this lens towards reproduction as the crux of centuries’ worth of subjugation women have suffered at the hands of colonial and patriarchal powers. In her glass sculptures, figures of women emerge from fantastical, petaled forms as floral scents waft through the room. In the accompanying film, Poblador herself slips into the myths of these flowers to commune with the women at their center.
Drawing parallels between these flora and the colonized female body, Poblador turns the myths on their heads to imagine the Filipina prying agency from her oppressors and blossoming towards emancipation. - Apa Agbayani
Photos by Kitkat Pajaro
Thank you to the Oakspring Garden Foundation for your awarding me with the time, space and support which allowed me to finish this exhibition. This project was also supported in part by a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.
Thank you to the Fertility Flowers Film Collaborators:
Director of Photography: Sasha Palomares; Creative Direction by Apa Agbayani; Character Design, Hair and Makeup by Slo Lopez; Production Manager: Tony Battung; Edited by Abby Alcanzare; Color Grading by Bianca Francisco; Music composed and performed by Michelle Sui; Mixed and mastered by Zach Rosenberg, The Queen’s Royal Garb: Carl Jan Cruz and Namì.
Thank you to Apa Agbayani and Joseph Sousa