Snakes and Sex Serve to Question Female Stereotypes in Dina Gadia’s Collages
Owen Houhoulis of Owen James Gallery acquired his first Dina Gadia print in 2011 when his wife, artist and illustrator Isabel Roxas, travelled to the Philippines for her own exhibition. Houhoulis was unable to attend his wife’s show, so to make him feel better she brought back the Gadia print. The couple was smitten, and they have been avid collectors ever since. Therefore, it seems fitting that Owen James Gallery in Brooklyn plays host to Gadia’s first solo show in the United States, titled “Non Mint Copy.”
This is also the Manila-based mixed-media artist’s first exhibition to focus solely on her collages. Gadia, who trained as a graphic designer, reassembles imagery from vintage magazines, advertisements, and pornography, all of which influence her output even when she’s not working in collage. “My materials are from secondhand bookshops and thrift stores. I select images that I like and see where it will go,” says Gadia. “My interest in graphic design helps me weight the quality of images and text that I use.” Striking a balance between tongue-in-cheek humor and cultural critique, her subject matter ranges from issues of cultural identity, imperialism, nationalism, sexuality, and ideals of beauty.
In “Non Mint Copy,” Gadia creates funny and rebellious compositions out of retro Filipino source materials. Her kitschy imagery from the 1950s are familiar to both American and Filipino audiences, thanks in part to the huge cultural impact the United States has had on the Philippines since the late 19th century. In Country Garden (2015), a boa constrictor wraps around a naked blond pinup girl with a “come hither” look—one that matches that of the snake’s. The phrase “GET NEAR” looms above her head, spelling out the subject’s suggestive gaze with bold letters set ablaze in green flames. Liwayway (Flattering Portrait of ’57) (2015) shows an exotic beauty on the cover of Liwayway Magazine (which translates into English as Dream Magazine)—a weekly that has been published in the Philippines since 1922—morph into a monstrosity as a snake weaves in and out of her eyes, nose, and mouth. Both works feature strong female characters and use symbolism—snakes in particular—to question stereotypes of women (those descended from Eve, who fell from grace after her encounter with a serpent). “I think snakes are an overused element that I like to use over and over because of the symbols and meanings attributed to them,” Gadia explains.
“She is an artist who can be read in a number of different ways,” Houhoulis says. “Americans and Europeans are able to appreciate what she is saying, even if they come to the work from their own cultural context, because these themes are universal. Her work is local and global at the same time.”
—Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
“Dina Gadia – Non Mint Copy” is on view at the Owen James Gallery, May 8–Jun. 13, 2015.