Wawi Navarroza’s process always begins with curiosity — followed by rigorous research and field work, “[going] around almost knowing nothing.” For her latest exhibit “Medusa,” which recently opened at Silverlens Galleries, the artist and photographer spent two years immersing herself in and capturing the dualities of Romblon’s marble industry.

The resulting body of work indeed calls forth familiar imagery related to the Greek myth of Medusa, whose sight would turn the unsuspecting into stone. Flanked by marble-dust paintings are the photographs, earthly and ethereal with Navarroza’s fascination for the material and its ties to the people of Romblon. “When I invited the people to appear in my photos, they were to dramatize their own lives,” says Navarroza. “A lot of sculpting is going on.” She points out that the workers themselves are also being sculpted physically due to the manual labor they put in. “Are they the sculptors,” she asks, “or are they the ones sculpted?”

These are the same people whose handiwork appears in the installation, a feast sculpted in different types of marble, which Navarroza describes as “magical realism,” explaining that she didn’t simply want to be a passive visitor to Romblon. “There’s [also] a lightness to how I saw it,” she recalls, citing the way marble comes from a mountain, broken down into large pieces rock, and finally into small bits of dust. The imagery of stone itself, according to Navarroza, is indicative of our way of life in contemporary times: “We can’t be stoic when it comes to the things that are happening around the world.”

“Medusa” is the fourth show to open in the new location of Silverlens. The main gallery, with its high ceiling and large LED panels that seem to mimic a skylight, appears to be in perfect sync with Navarroza’s work. “I felt that it was the right stage to do it here because I need something monumental,” she says. “Everything has to be big and for me as a photographer, that was the ultimate dream, to be able to show it in a space where it could be read right.”

Working in Romblon, Navarroza compares her experiences to the hero’s journey, the narrative concept introduced by mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell. “You embark on something to find out something,” she explains. “I discovered things along the way, and I was able to interpret it in a way that I kind of abstracted the reality and presented something.” – Fiel Estrella

Silverlens is located at Lapanday Center, 2263 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati. Navarroza’s exhibit runs until June 3, 2017.

Photos by Patrick Diokno.

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