Honoring her heart, her being, and the things important: The art of Ysa Gernale (Santos)

Ysa Gernale the artist
The artist Ysa Gernale-Santos

There are three things that I cannot live without – the beauty that surrounds me; the truth in my heart; and the good things that Universe and the humanity have to offer.

The art of Ysa Gernale-Santos is indeed, one of the good things that the Grand Architect of the Universe and humanity are offering and I am going to accept it, willingly and whole-heartedly for they truly reflect her experiences and realizations, first as a Filipino visual artist, second as a mother, and lastly, as a human being that struggles to live a life that is full and meaningful, not only for herself but for those whom she loves so dearly.

Images of a being blessed with the heart and the womb but often neglected

Ysa Gernale 8
In her works, Ysa Gernales Santos honors not only herself but also other women.  

Oftentimes, Ysa paints about women. Of course, this is understandable for Ysa, herself, is a woman and her womanhood, in one way or another, has been completed when she became a mother.

 However as a critic, I often see things beyond the surface and now, I see her women paintings are her tribute to her kabaro (kabaro in Tagalog means fellow or with same gender), who often suffer neglect and abuse.

For, notwithstanding the modernity of our times and the preaching of gender equality by some groups and even by the world’s governments, women are still considered as “second class citizens.” Their achievements no matter how great or wonderful they may be remain underrated and unappreciated. Unless they will they raise their voice, nobody would listen. But the saddest thing to realize is, despite the strong feminist movement all over the world, majority of the world’s women are still under the influence of negative form of patriarchy—oppressive and repressive. And come to think of it, it is the 21st century but the fangs of oppression against women and their dreams are deeply planted on the neck of the daughters of Eve and Demeter. Their bodies and minds are often treated as things to play with, not sacred grounds that needed to be revered and taken care of.

Just like what the psychoanalyst and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés said,

The body is like an earth. It is a land unto itself. It is as vulnerable to overbuilding, being carved into parcels, cut off, over-mined, and shorn of its power as any landscape…

Honoring the Feminine Power

In spite of this bitter reality about the status of women in the world, there is still hope. For the feminine spirit, that Wild Women Soul, can never be silenced or forever be subjugated. It will escape from its prison cell and fly like the birds in the blue skies. And just like the fire fiercely burning at the hearth, it will continue to blaze and shine, and the shadow and the light it creates will become a shade and a guide to all those who wanted warmth and solace. From time to time, each generation will give to strong and wise women like Deborah, Ana, Ruth, and Mary of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures; the warrior women of the myths and legends of old; and healers, prophetesses, and storytellers whose hands and words can heal the wounds of the heart and soul of humanity—all we need to is to sincerely recognize their presence. And it shows in Ysa’s paintings of women.

To quote Estés again:

“In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”

For me, there’s no need for the women in Ysa’s paintings to open their lips.

Their presence is enough to preach the power of the feminine soul; the prowess of that spirit that nourishes and teaches and loves and preserves; and whose connection to cycles of the Earth and the Universe itself is direct and intimate. As Dr. Christiane Northrup wrote more than 10 years ago,

“Our blood is our connection to the archetypal feminine. The macrocosmic cycles of nature, the waxing and waning, the ebb and flow of the tides and the changes of the seasons, are reflected on a smaller scale in the menstrual cycle of the individual female body. The monthly ripening of an egg and subsequent pregnancy or release of menstrual blood mirror the process of creation as it occurs not only in nature, unconsciously, but in human endeavor. In many cultures, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as sacred…”

Interestingly, Ysa always depicts her “women” as moon-faced, with tightly closed lips, and whose eyes are focused on something or somewhere. (She calls her style of painting as experimental.)

The moon, in folklore and in mystical traditions, is always connected to the mysteries, to the enigmatic power of the earth herself. In fact, one of the teachers in Hinduism opined that the moon has something to do with human birth, the body-making process, and its phases have an impact to our physiology.

It is the called the “lesser light” but its power cannot be undermined. It pulls the tides and it has something to do with the changing of our seasons and the counting of our earthly days.

Perhaps, unconsciously, the moon-faced women of Ysa’s paintings are her tribute to the Feminine Energy, to Sophia who is the wisdom of the ever evolving Universe, which actually the author of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible didn’t fail to mention:

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” — Proverbs 31:26

And because Ysa’s women have “direct” connection to the cycles and the evolution of the earth, their hands are never idle. They are always busy, working or doing something beneficial and profitable for them, for their families, and those people that surround them. As the Good Book said,

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.—Proverbs 31:10 – 31, New International Version.

Ysa’s aesthetic “secrets”

But her work, of course, does not only focus on women and the rustic scenery of the old town that she used to live. She also paints about family and, just like what I have said before, about her own experiences. These two, according to the artist herself, are the wellsprings of her inspiration to paint.

“My first inspiration is my family and the different life experiences. These are the reasons why, in my work, there are always children, family, and happy community. I really care about [my] family, and I always wanted a positive and happy environment. I also want to surround myself with happy and positive people,” Ysa told this writer.

But the weight of Ysa Gernale-Santos’ works is not only on her aesthetics (the way that she paints her subjects) but the philosophy that guides her and she incorporates to her work.

“I paint not because I want to sell my works, but I want to show the audience the importance of love and respect, and as a person I’m simple and contented on what God has given me,” she said.

Aesthetically and value-wise, the paintings of Ysa are worth buying and keeping. And as you hang them on your wall, they will remind you of the importance of being grateful, of being simple at heart, the power of love and compassion, the value or importance of unity and love in the family, and the value of women to the society and to the world.

In addition to what has been mentioned above, the other reason that you should have one of Ysa’s works is because she has put her heart and soul into it.

Nota Bene: Ysa sees herself still painting in the next 10 years, and we’re excited of what she would paint.



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