03/11/2016

The grit of Nikki Luna

by  Pam Musni
Art by Mika Bacani
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There is more to artist Nikki Luna’s collaboration with local clothing brand Human than meets the eye.


There is more to artist Nikki Luna’s collaboration with local clothing brand Human than meets the eye. The first thing you notice about Nikki Luna is how accessible she is.

It’s the kind of thing you don’t expect from big-name artists at first glance. Maybe it’s the image created by pop media, or perhaps the eccentric fancies of artist friends, but when you think of artists who’ve made it big — in art or otherwise — you can’t help but think of an invisible divide.

With Nikki, however, there is no such divide. In fact, partway into my question on the Yuccie generation (“You seem to be the person na parang “Oh, this person, she’s made it; how can we do that?’”) she shook her head in quick rebuttal, eyes flickering with a nervous unease… or perhaps, horror.

There is more to artist Nikki Luna’s collaboration with local clothing brand Human than meets the eye.

“No,” she replied. “I guess I just knew where my passion lied. I knew where my heart was. And there were struggles — there was lots of pain going through just achieving, just being an artist. A lot of people think, ‘Wow, I envy you, that’s your full-time job?’ And sabi ko, ‘Yeah, but I had to struggle.’”

If lives are like movies, this down-to-earth approach seems to be a recurring motif in Nikki’s own. Take a look at her exclusive line of shirts — a collaboration with local brand Human — and you can see this direct familiarity. With statements that are reflective of her feminist views —“Women Aren’t 2nd-Class Citizens”; “Unlearn Patriarchy” — these shirts, Nikki says, aren’t mere slogans; they’re short, powerful statements meant to make wearer and witness think, ask, dissect their meaning.

“A lot of times, people would like to distance themselves from feminism, especially young girls. Because they don’t know the meaning; they rely on the mainstream definition,” she said. For her, it’s especially true in an age where information influx can instantly turn into misinformation. The line is just one of her many initiatives to battle just that.

“It’s always evolving, the definition (of feminism)… these women defenders and fighters were the ones who paved the way for us to have these benefits that we’re enjoying now,” said Nikki, as we delve further into the true essence of feminism. “And now, it’s become different. We oppose being oppressed, or subordinated within and outside the home.”

Perhaps it’s this strong connection to the subject that makes her work feel close to home. “I know there’s the impression of high art, but then, the topics I talk about are not high art,” said Nikki, in response to my question on her work being potentially misunderstood as “high art.”  “It’s not passive, it’s not an ornament — it’s something that you need to face. It’s probably a headline you just read.”

Nikki Luna's shirts have short, powerful statements meant to make the wearer and witness think, ask, and dissect their meaning.

It’s true. It’s been said that her work is something that is experienced — delving into issues such as militarization, OFWs, extra-judicial killings, domestic unease, and of course, women’s issues. “Usually, I get this response: ‘Oh, my God, your work is so nice, but it’s so painful,’” Nikki recalled. “Like, they always say it… ‘I didn’t expect it to be like that.’”

But aside from the topic matter, it’s her skillful use of the medium that drives the point home even further. “I just appropriate the concept with the medium, and most of the time it becomes installations, sculpture, conceptual — because that’s when you actually get to experience it as a whole,” said Nikki. “So, the audience has a big participation in it as compared to just hanging a painting, for me.”

And the audience she caters to is very wide. Discussing the Human collaboration, she elaborates on this further. “I think it would be great if more artists — or I guess more movers, and doers, those who won’t settle on just being admired, or followed — if more brands could actually promote these people, so that when you promote these people, you promote their causes,” she says. “Maybe they can inform more people.”

For the causes she personally believes in, the fight is far from over. “It’s a process. We don’t demand from everyone to just have a 360-degree (change). It’s an everyday struggle, because everything around here is connected to it,” she says. “In activism, this is what they always say — you have to be patient. Otherwise, who else will teach it?”

And indeed, marrying passion and belief, she does just that.

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