What does it take to uproot oneself? To pluck oneself out of the nourishing cocoons of family and friends, to have to learn to speak an alien language and live an alien culture, and to bear all of the loneliness that comes with it? Migrants know this best, and artist-migrants could perhaps give us the best glimpse into this ever-alienating world through the works they’ve created along the way. And we at Route Projects have the honor of presenting their thoughts and celebrating their works in our newest series – RUTA NI JUANA / VIAJE NI JUAN – a record of the Filipino diaspora in stories and art.
Here in Germany, where more than 80% of Filipino migrants are women, there is certainly no shortage of creative females who have traced their emotional routes through images. In BERLIN, we have spoken with 2 Filipino women – KRISANTA CAGUIOA-MOENNICH and ROWENA DUFALE BORSICH – both mothers and artists who have generously shared the stories of their roots, their route, and most importantly, their talents. Join us as we let their thoughts and creations walk us through their new worlds.
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WHAT ARE YOUR ROOTS?
I come from a big catholic family in the northern part of the Philippines – Isabela. I have 9 siblings. I am the 5th child and eldest daughter. My parents have been a great influence on me. They taught me many things in and about life. And the most important are moral values and ethics. I have shaped myself and my life based on what they have imbibed in me. For us, being highly educated is nothing without moral values and ethics. One may go further in their career, but if you have a lousy character, you will never achieve fulfillment and happiness.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design from the University of the Philippines. My three other brothers went to the same university. Hence, our big family also changed, from being very conservative to being liberal. We still hold traditional values that keep our feet on the ground but we are very open and respect other people’s points of view, new ideas, opinions, etc. My aspiration in life is to be able to do something that can, in one way or another, make other people’s lives better or happier even just for a short while.
My name is Rowena Dufale Borsich and I am from northern Philippines, from Abra to be exact. I was born in 1974 so I’m turning 44 on the 21st of June. I have nothing to brag about my educational attainment. I went to elementary school in our barrio Pilar in Abra from Grade 1 to 3 (1980-83), then I moved to Manila in 1984. The next year, I went back to our province where I finished elementary school in 1987. I went back to our barrio for High School, and in 1991 I migrated to Manila to continue school but while I was on school vacation, I thought that I could earn a little bit while waiting for the next enrollment, so I got a job at a Ceramics factory. Going back to school was postponed because I got offered a better job in Electronics, and I just kept on working since then. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, na kahit pala hindi college level or college graduate susweldo pala ng mas mataas pa sa ibang college graduate. (I said to myself, even without a college education one could still earn a lot, even more than college graduates.)
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WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTE?
I left the Philippines in 2009 because I met a German in Manila, who then brought me with him to Berlin where we got married. However, we separated a year ago. I am now living with our almost 5-year old son in my own flat in Berlin. After my hometown Isabela, I only lived in Manila to study and work since I was 17.
I left home because my husband had a better job here in Berlin. Coming here was not an easy task, there were a lot of bureaucracy here and there. But before I came here, or before I met my husband, I was an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). I went to Japan as a singer and as staff in a KTV bar. I was there two times – 6 months each time, and a year apart. After my last contract in 2005, I met my husband through the internet. We were both immediately attracted to each other then. And so through the internet, we also planned our future like marriage, etc. After we got married in the Philippines, he went back home and I had to do the bureaucracy in the Philippines. A year after, he picked us up and we flew to Berlin together.
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HOW AND WHEN DID YOU START MAKING ART?
Ever since I was a child I was already quite interested in art. I was drawing a lot, participating in art contests, and I remember making cut-out paper barbie dolls.
When I arrived in Berlin, I felt somewhat depressed being very far from my family for the first time and without friends, and feeling quite alienated by the new environment, the weather, and the people. I got used to watching TV until late at night, where I got to see painting sessions of this american landscape artist Bob Ross. I would say that he was a big influence for me to continue with my passion in art. He was painting in such a way that made me feel like painting was some sort of a leisure and healing activity. I enjoyed watching him paint and learned many things from his painting techniques. I began to feel the need to do my own paintings.
So I started painting landscapes with my first set of acrylic paints and canvas. During those nights when I could not sleep, instead of watching TV – I just painted. This went on and on until I started painting other themes like abstract, portrait, and cityscapes. And then through Facebook, I began receiving painting commissions for portraits, cityscapes, or reproductions of famous paintings. Since 2010, I have painted around 100 art pieces, plus miniature ones and postcards. I cannot count them anymore.
I pursued painting because it was an outlet for my feelings, emotions, moods, or whatever we can call it. It is like a form of pilgrimage, in which in every piece has a part of me in it… like an emotion at one phase in my life. And in every piece, there is some sort of fulfillment. Looking back, during those times when I felt I was depressed, my paintings were quite dark. So basically, my paintings are a reflection of me… My favourite subjects nowadays are Spring and Autumn because of their different lively colors. Now that I am happy and fulfilled in my life, these subjects really reflect my state of mind and heart.
Check out more of KRISANTA’S works on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ArtworxByKrisantaCM/
I started sketching when I was 3 years old, or even earlier. I can still recall that my first sketch was a face, then a five-petalled flower with leaves. In my very young age, I wanted my sketches to be the same from the image or from my pattern. As I grew older, I noticed that I loved to sketch nude female bodies in a decent way. But then, when I migrated to Manila, I got myself a job in a ceramic factory as an artist or designer. During that time, I took the opportunity to know the colors better. Now, even if my eyes are closed and you ask me about combining 3 colors or more, I can tell you what the outcome will be.
I started painting on canvas here in Berlin because it is more affordable here in Berlin, and my husband is not against it. Painting or sketching for me is when I feel inspired or I feel happy – that’s the time I paint. Painting for me is not a sort of therapy. My favourite subjects are Landscapes, Humans or Portraits, and flowers.
But gardening is therapy for me from everyday stress. It is like I’m in paradise when I am gardening.
Rowena also has a Gardening YouTube page – check out her other videos HERE!
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HOW DO YOU FEEL AS A FILIPINO MIGRANT IN GERMANY?
As a Filipina migrant, and especially as part of a German organization for women, I feel really empowered to learn more about our rights and duties as women in Europe and all around the world. Having the opportunity to learn from ideas, views, and opinions of other women from different organizations and fields, as well as being able to support and empower other women – these have really helped me become aware of what we are and what we can do as women. Opportunities like these are barely available for any of us in our own country.
As a Filipino migrant in Berlin, I can say that I am more free now. I have my new homeland and nobody says do this and do that. I am happy together with my family.
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WHAT ARE THE CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES OF FILIPINO WOMEN IN GERMANY?
I believe that there are many Filipinas who are doing great in Germany – working, studying, having a great family. I know some who are successful lawyers, mothers, students, teachers. However, there are also many other women who are trapped in their roles as mother and/or wife, trapped in the comfort zone of being dependent on their partners, never having to work for their financial or other needs. This may serve a good purpose. But I think, being in Germany with all the opportunities to get support and learn to become more independent in all aspects of life, to become the best we can be and to make our own dreams and wishes come true – it is a pity if we do not maximize our stay here. We should maximize our opportunities and potential. We should strive to create our own identity and never stop growing.
KRISANTA and ROWENA exhibited their works as part of a group of Filipina artists called “Talento” at the Philippine Embassy in Berlin. More on this exhibit HERE.