The Breast of Times

The Philippine Star

September 23, 2012

I doubt if Sequi Cu-Unjieng has ever gotten stark-raving angry. I doubt if her heart rate ever goes beyond 80 beats per minute. Quirky, lovable person that she is, Sequi will probably deny this observation, eyebrows raised, arms flapping like a seagull that is about to land –– but this is my story and I am sticking to it. Despite her generally mellow disposition, Sequi is a dedicated artist who has spent years honing her craft, having studied at Emily Carr Art Institute in Vancouver.

Sequi Cu Unjieng

I started painting in 2004 but only considered being serious about it when Didi Dee (owner and curator of Galerie Hans Brumann) saw the first gray-scaled nude that I painted and asked me to do a series of nudes for Hiraya. The culmination of these works was a one-woman show entitled Ode to a Beautiful Nude in 2009. Eventually, I did another exhibit entitled Mind on What Matters in 2011,” she says.

As her children are mostly grown-ups, Sequi has more freedom to paint. “I am guilt-free!” she laughs. This October, she will be exhibiting a series of oil paintings at the Ayala Museum. Entitled Transcending Boundaries, the presentation will be a series of paintings on the female breast.

Wild Happy Wild

Sequi shares, “I’m not exactly sure how this idea of ‘breast portraits’ came about. While thinking of what to feature for a new series, I knew I wanted to paint something different and create an exhibit with a mission. I first pitched this idea of breast portraits to a cousin who also happened to be in Vancouver (the Cu-Unjiengs spend a lot of time in Canada as two of their children study there) while I was there last year and he was all for it. Then I asked other cousins if they would allow me to paint their portraits — they all gave me their enthusiastic YES-es. Unfortunately, I was not able to paint theirs because they live in Vancouver and I’m in Manila. I also asked my friends in Manila if I could paint their breasts and was pleasantly surprised that they agreed.”

Sequi started to consider what technique would be used in executing her paintings. “I decided that I would first create a bunch of underpaintings and each woman would choose which one she wanted for her breast portrait. Her choice of underpainting would already say a lot about her. I would interview each of my subjects to find out how she viewed her life at this period in time. The challenge is not just to get the breasts ‘right,’ but to create a painting that spoke about each woman — the anatomical accuracy of the breasts became almost secondary. Each of the women has a story to tell (some of them breast cancer survivors), each of them beautiful, intelligent, interesting and engaging. Each of them different and in a way, all of them are the same.

Sequi says she learned a lot while painting this series — so much about all of her subjects, so much about herself. “We all are aware that we are faced with life’s challenges and that we can somehow overcome them. We all have people we love and who love us back. We all cherish joyful moments and try to remember to find the thrill in simple things. This artistic journey also brought home the idea that we should embrace today because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

Transcending Boundaries (under the NGO Friends Under the Tree Inc. (FRUTT)) aims to raise money for I Can Serve’s breast screening programs for indigent women. FRUTT is an organization created by Sequi and her Assumption classmates. The name is meaningful to them because they used to sit under one particular tree in school during recess and lunch. It was then that their friendship grew. “We were a larger group back then. A number of us no longer live in the Philippines. However, nine of us would still be able to get together for dinner and birthdays.”

Of her commitment to this advocacy, Sequi opines, “I believe in sharing one’s blessings. Is it not true that when we give, we make room for more blessings to come our way?”