Bosom Buddies

The Philippine Star

September 23, 2012

“In a recent mini reunion of high school friends, we realized that just among the nine of us who attended the gathering, there were three cancer survivors. That’s a ratio of 1:3 — a statistic that, although unscientifically deduced, is very startling and really brings to home the prevalence of the disease.

It would be safe to assume that we all have had some association with cancer. Each of us must have had at least one family member or friend killed by this dreaded illness. Without really wanting to, I have been exposed to its cruelty specially when one of my dearest friends battled fearlessly and fiercely against cancer. I joined her in the fight and we would rejoice in her small triumphs but, in the end, the disease was just too tricky, sneaky, expensive and elusive to overcome. My friend’s name is Dayday Joseph-David and she would have been 44 last Sept. 1.”

So when Sequi Cu-Unjieng told me about her concept for her third solo exhibit, I was more than happy to help her in honor of Dayday and all others who have succumbed to cancer. The fusion of art and advocacy is one that I can never resist.

When I first met Sequi in 1974, she went by another more conventional name — Cecilia. We became bosom buddies. Her nickname comes from her maiden name (De Sequera) and one that evolved when we were in high school. I had always known her to be artistic. When we were in Grade 7, she drew a chalk mural on our blackboard that won first place in the Linggo ng Wika competition. It was an interpretation of the UP Oblation.

Sequi embarked on an interior design career after college and also went into the business of designing undergarments at one point. She is wife to Gil Cu-Unjieng and mother to four beautiful children: Carlo, Anton, Alexandra and Julia. She never quite had the opportunity to take formal art lessons but her instinct and innate sense of rhythm, balance and form more than compensate for this lack.

Her first one-woman show was Ode to a Beautiful Nude in 2009 that took off from Pablo Neruda’s iconic love poem. And just like the poem, her works were raw yet sensitive. Mind on What Matters was Sequi’s second exhibit last year that featured abstracts, which, the artist says, “evoked how I resolved life’s ‘should I stay or should I go’ conflicts.” The paintings showed how Sequi had acquired much more depth and maturity in executing her brushstrokes.

And now this — some 30 pieces of art dedicated to women’s bosoms. In putting together Transcending Boundaries, Sequi was inspired by the personal journeys of each woman who sat for her. She recounts, “The breast portraits of real women feature the uniqueness of each sitter. The women went through the same process of impressing their breasts on my canvas, each one transcending personal boundaries by doing so.”

Because of the personal connection made with each woman and the resulting interpretation of that woman’s background, life story or experience, Sequi asked each one to give a title to her painting. Sequi adds, “When the viewer looks past the breasts, facets of each woman may be discerned and observed. The use of mixed media highlights the idea that women escape definition and are a composite of many qualities and attributes.”

Our high school class has managed to remain very tight in the last three decades. When we are together, we are these women who share common feelings, roles and aspirations. In fact, when we congregate, we become adolescents again chattering away like we did in the confines of our school. It was in Assumption San Lorenzo where we developed such deep, caring and lasting friendships.

Sequi’s closest circle of friends used to spend recess and lunch hour under the shade of a santol tree next to the basketball court. The scene is still very vivid in my mind. Sadly, the tree and the court are no longer there; they have been replaced by a multi-level state-of-the art sports complex. But the bonds endure among the friends under the tree.

So much so that nine of them decided to incorporate the group into a non-profit association called Friends Under the Tree Inc. or FRUTT. Besides Sequi, FRUTT includes Gigi Alcasid, Angela Magsaysay-Baguio, Margie Barretto-Llamas, Sella Puno-Mapa, Gina Bautista-Martin, Yva dela Peña, Jackie Reyes and Nanette Reyes. FRUTT was incorporated to carry out programs and activities that make a meaningful contribution to the betterment of the environment, communities and society at large. Sequi’s show is their first project.

FRUTT, through the exhibit, hopes to increase a much stronger awareness, through art, of the importance of early breast cancer detection. This is their response to the fact that the Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Southeast Asia with a mortality rate of over 60 percent. Yet, when detected early, breast cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer.

All proceeds from the exhibit will be used to support Carewell Foundation’s efforts and the “Ating Dibdibin” program of the I Can Serve Foundation. Ating Dibdibin is a community-based breast cancer screening program designed to teach early detection techniques so that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage. Target communities will be chosen from among the poorest of the poor. Health Secretary Enrique Ona has stated that the Department of Heath recognizes and fully supports FRUTT’s efforts in breast cancer control and treatment.

The exhibit will be held for one evening only at the Ayala Museum lobby on Oct. 2, Tuesday, at 6 p.m. with Missy Sanares-Reyes as curator. For an advance viewing of the paintings, please visit FRUTT on Facebook and discover how my bosom buddy, Sequi, captures the confidence, inner strength and spirit of womanhood.