Brenda Fajardo as Mother Courage


The title comes from a famous play of the great Polish playwright Bertolt Brecht. To provide for her children, a mother had to work in a military canteen of the Swedish army. Set in what was the thirty years war of 17th century Europe, the play is considered one of Brecht’s masterpieces, its strong anti-war sentiment, blended with humor and politics is what makes this a very powerful classic drama. Its socialist fervor has never waned whenever in the world it is staged, such that when the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) produced it in 1985. As one of its tributes to Brecht as an influence, it was one of PETA’s most revered performances to this day. With the functional yet nostalgic ambiance of the Rajah Sulayman theater as the perfect venue, the lead role of Mother Courage suited perfectly for a senior thespian. She is Brenda Villanueva Fajardo.

Baraha ng Buhay Pilipino 3. Ink on Paper, 2013

For the few who can remember, the moniker unconsciously stuck, as time went on. As a one of her Humanities students (she was a teacher foremost — we had to arrange our seats in a circular manner during her class) where she taught it was quite apt for Brenda. Her nurturing nature, her motherly concern not only for her students but also to her academic colleagues in UP and fellow artists as well. Brenda was generous with her ideas having led a formidable artistic life intertwined in visual arts, theater, and art education spanning forty years. In fact it was during her watch as chairperson that the Department of Humanities became Art Studies (that’s a separate article altogether).

Aside from the call of the stage, Brenda is an art teacher, visual artist, printmaker. At the CCP 13 Artists Awards in 1992, when the eyes were focused on Onib Olmedo formally clad in barong for his long overdue recognition, I felt so was the accolade alluded to Brenda who was also among the awardees. Side-by-side with Mr. Olmedo’s black and white rendition of daily struggle of domestic life, Brenda showed ten panels depicting Philippine myths and legends. Brenda not only commanded presence in that show of shows, but she reminded her audience and her fellow recipients, as well (some could have been her children) how historical memory, one imbeded in mythical themes, are an extreme priority for people layered with Chinese, Spanish, and American influences.
 New Deck
Ongoing at Nineveh Art Space, Brenda revisits her Baraha ng Buhay Pilipino, a reprisal of her Tarot Card series which she first shuffled and dealt with in the early 80s.
Reclaiming what was colonial, Brenda reverses its proposition of what was supposed to be a mix of European mysticism and religious symbolism coming up with something in our own terms. Actually the first tarot cards were traced back in Egypt in the 14th century. This practice of foretelling your fortune traveled to Italy from its Turuq ways. Having academically studying this cultural material, Brenda has brought us a new deck and deals it as our own fable for our own learning.
In this series Baraha ng Buhay Pilipino Kapalaran (Fortune), Ang Gaga (the Fool), and Salamangkero (the Magician) and her favorite Babaylan (spiritual in-between) contend with Ang Tore (the Tower), Kapalaran (Fortune), and Daigdig (World) ushering in possible interpretations creating further new alternative realities. Somewhat doing this antique arcana a favor, acting like the seer by interchanging fates — mixing something indigenous, colonial, and the urban — Brenda reinvents worlds, or depending on how the viewer perceives it.

This artistic will to change, as she intersperses something rationally materialistic with the spontaneity of chance, Brenda allows “her people” to deconstruct and intervene in the process. Thus similar to our Bahala na idiom, it could be leaving everything to fate or taking strength by focusing on one’s faith/fate.

Observing her early Tarot cards from these new set, they are more raw but more confident this time. My favorite is the Baraha ng Buhay Pilipino 3 where Ang Gagareappears with Kapalaran and Kamatayan (Death. She doesn’t mind it being dirty or being not too linear. Her sense of colors are rather more earth bound.
Brenda has always been consistent in her composition, they reveal different meanings whether her works are hanged in the walls of Manila Contemporary, or at the Cultural Center of the Philippines or even here in Nineveh Art Space in Sta. Cruz, Laguna where she regularly exhibits. Or in any solitary space it finds home, her women issues, her never-ending quest for pagkakakilanlanand kakanyahan may have various allusions from their confinement however will always come out refreshed and we are more educated from it.
Baraha ng Buhay Pilipino 4. Ink on Paper, 2013.

Branding Brenda

The Indian curator Ananda Coomaraswamy once said: “art is but a preparation for that bigger art, the Art of Living.” Brenda had always advocated and promoted the cultural expression in the regions. Her faith in the probinsyanos and their sheer folk artistry manifested early on her in her academic life. She was always researching whether it be the komedya in Pakil or Paete wood carvers of Laguna or the painters in Tanay, Rizal, this was long before Department of Tourism summarized everything in wows and more funs. The Mt. Banahaw scholar, Dr. Guillermo Pesigan, confessed during his book launch that Brenda was one of the first people to tag along with him and trek the venerated mountain in the 70’s to observe the Ciudad Mystica as matriarchal society living in the of midst commercial changes in the towns and cities below them. 

It may be an age-old debate but there has been no word for master, as if people assumed that all great artist or craftsmen are of the masculine kind. It is not that Philippine art is replete with ka-womenan (in Brenda’s word) artist but somehow it took many more lifetimes than the usual for the likes of Paz Paterno, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Nena Saguil, Karen Flores and Geraldine Javier to gather a forceful impact in the art scene. The irony of these implications — as Brenda’s health frails her, here at Nineveh, her art rejuvenates all of us.