WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Sculptor Agnes Arellano on death, defiance, and sacred sexuality.
“Risk” is when you’re not sure, but you go ahead. I’ve risked being ridiculed and being not believed, being laughed at, risked going against convention… but it makes me more defiant.
I remember as a girl, I really resented the parish priest because my friend and I wanted to offer flowers to the Virgin. It was a little corner in the churchyard with a beautiful Virgin statue, we wanted to offer flowers but he was so nasty, he drove us away from there. Bawal ba ‘yun? Little things like that made me resentful.
When I lost my virginity I couldn’t keep going back to the Church and be a hypocrite. And how can it be a sin? That always haunted me until my adulthood, and it’s still here with me today, this guilt, this fear of sex. But all those trips seeing other cultures, and seeing that sex is the most sacred thing, not the most bastos—all those things gave me courage.
I found out the danger of sex is: not knowing what you’re getting into. I also found out that it’s the most sacred thing, the act of creation. In Khajuraho, those erotic temples, they make the yantras, all these sacred diagrams with the copulating couples, they make it face south—which is where Yama, the god of death, resides—because it’s the only force potent enough to counter death. Parang, sacred sexuality is one of my advocacies, to tell people, hey you know, it is a very powerful thing. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll get into trouble. When I was six years old, God was something to be feared. We had a huge crucifix at home, and my sister would genuflect every night. There were a lot of powerful images, and I remember feeling very vulnerable and small. But now, after all the learning and experience, I realize that God is inside you, you have to draw it out. And I’ve spent years researching on the sacred feminine—so the “goddess” is very much there. And in a time like this, of war and of killing, you just have to turn to a more benevolent, compassionate being to seek solace.
If somebody from the spirit world appeared to me and talked to me, I still fear that. Even though I pray every day, and I think of my parents every day, because they died very tragically in a fire with my sister, so I still talk to them. But if they appeared to me face-to-face, I would be so scared.
Prayer is like unlocking the portal to the spiritual realm, so I light incense for the smoke and smell, a candle for the light, and I ring the bells for the sound. And I just talk to my parents and my sister—they’re like my guide into that world.
If I could choose my last meal, it would be red rice, poached egg, paksiw na isda, and kamatis with wansoy and patis.
Too much chatter annoys me. Sometimes people talk and they’re not conscious anymore that they’re talking. Spare me from your loud thinking, because I really make an effort to listen.