WHAT I’VE LEARNED

Sculp­tor Agnes Arel­lano on death, de­fi­ance, and sa­cred sex­u­al­ity.

Esquire (Philippines) - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW BY KARA OR­TIGA PHO­TO­GRAPH BY JA­SON QUIBILAN

“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.

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