At the end of viewing Cyd Chua’s Shattering Inhibitions: The Women I Let Out, I immediately felt compelled to give it another round. I felt like it was trying to say something that I just wasn’t opening myself up to hear. The exhibit features fifteen paintings of faceless women, mostly in black-and-white, contorting their bodies as if in pain. So why was the title, Shattering Inhibitions, so unironically bold and defiant?
Needless to say, like with any exhibit, there’s no hidden message to be uncovered, Da Vinci Code style. All it requires is a change in perspective and what you yourself bring to the paintings.
If you go through Shattering Inhibitions from left to right, the first painting, “Caged for Bondage,” may throw you off if you allow it to define your expectations for the rest of the exhibit. The painting portrays a woman with her head thrown upwards, hair suspended like a canopy, but with a chain tightly wound around her wrist. You aren’t meant to focus on the chain, though it’s a difficult symbol to shake off. As you move from painting to painting, you begin to understand that Chua never wants us to focus on the chains or anything that might signify suffering. The most important elements are always the women themselves.
Simply put, Shattering Inhibitions is a celebration of the female form—how it’s inherently graceful and beautiful, but also how it can be muscular and powerful (making it a great post-Wonder Woman experience). Viewing the exhibit through this lens, you begin to see that these women aren’t twisting and writhing in pain. Rather, they’re pushing against those chains and the boundaries of the frames, resisting their being boxed in. For example, a work like “Magician” transforms from the image of a woman burning or melting into that of a woman pushing so hard that she radiates energy through sheer force of will.
But Chua isn’t just depicting these women as individual bodies. At times, their bodies become entire landscapes. In “Luna,” the woman’s body begins to mirror the moon’s surface. In “Ode to the Sea,” she becomes both iceberg and slumbering island. And in “Scorched” and the aforementioned “Caged for Bondage,” the birds flying through the canopies of their hair suggest that the women have become havens for life.
The only things that hold back Chua’s exhibit are the small snippets of her poetry that accompany several of her works. These don’t necessarily add to what is already spoken beautifully by the paintings themselves: for most, if not all women, the chains will always be there. But Shattering Inhibitions states that that which holds you down will never define you. You’re always capable of something greater, or at the very least, of striking a pose.
SHATTERING INHIBITIONS: THE WOMEN I LET OUT IS ON DISPLAY UNTIL JUNE 27 AT PINEAPPLE LAB CREATIVE HUB, MAKATI CITY. FOR MORE INFORMATION, FOLLOW @PINEAPPLELABPH ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER, AND INSTAGRAM.