Didi Dee is an art dealer. She oversees her inner sanctum, the Hiraya Gallery, which is among the oldest and refutable commercial galleries in Manila.
She started to ‘take care’ of their business in February 1980. It used to be just the frame shop Modern Frames her Dad managed 28 years ago.
She has challenged herself since then. Dee appraises a piece of art she displays in Hiraya, which is an old Filipino word for “dream,” through its overall craftsmanship and emotional impact. It must (1) tell her something she doesn’t yet know, (2) show what a camera cannot just capture and (3) intone things human eyes cannot see.
Running an art gallery is difficult, especially since Dee tries to shy away from a “name-centric” art scene, focusing on talented newcomers. But Hiraya has sustained for almost 30 years to date, and it was mostly because of Dee’s inherited business acumen.
Aside from that quality, Dee is also selfless and humble. She would share her life with whoever whenever. She also knows when to stop and start again, observing a line from a movie of Akira Kurosawa: If you pace your windmill not too fast then you don’t have to repair it very often.
She has experienced conflicts though in pursuing and persevering art, for there are some artists who opt to sell directly to a client. For that not to happen, Dee adjusts ‘special arrangements’ for the painter.
She also discourages artists to replicate, even if the piece is their own work. She admonishes them instead to continuously polish their art and relent if they ‘do not make a single sale in seven years.’
“Life gives various opportunities and whether we grab them or let them pass by is all up to us.” –Didi Dee
(Below is my writing on her and her gallery five years ago.)
Cellars: Life and Art in accordance
The young are taught to be privy. Matters that involve penises, vaginas, and breasts should not be discussed. It may be about life but then, it is not how it should be portrayed. When they grow up, expect that they know nothing about its complex realities. What they know then would be misconstrued, pent up deep inside…
“Living in a Catholic society, there are so many things that we don’t want to talk about. The Cellars is our vehicle ,” says Didi Dee, Hiraya Gallery’s director, about her latest exhibit Cellars.
Running from March 12 to April 5, this mini art space hangs 29 paintings, each soothing and provoking. All works of Filipino modernists with themes about life, love, sex, and lust, the art pieces evoke in us realizations that society tries to restrict and confine but are still within ourselves. Release it and you would either be hounded or fulfilled.
Indecent and impudent are the two words one could mouth upon entering the gallery’s door. Pinned on its counterpart wall are the works of Jose Legaspi. Lovers feasting, losing blood, into a deep blue sea where gloom and doom awaits. His Lovers shows two horrid creatures—one swallowing the penis of his partner as the other stab the former in the head with a dagger—so passionate and ardent that they could kill and exhaust themselves for the thing called love. His Blood reveals the true amount of excruciating pain. Not through injuries and wounds but through the hurt brought by darkness and nothingness. And his Feast illustrates men and women’s appetite for love, eating each other’s body and devouring each other’s soul.
Another door, containing Santiago Bose’s August Deities, looms on the corner inviting anyone who is as courageous as the two naked female bathers to its fantasy castle. In that place are promises of happiness, contentment, as well as of fear. It only takes one to open it.
At the far center of the gallery is Maya Munoz’s Red House display of a man begging, asking, and giving love. She was able to capture the oohhs and aahhs of her lover, defining the crimson light that goes through his head, literally.
Lined in the left walls adjacent to it are Dulcie Dee’s Naked Cities (I, II, III, and IV). Buildings, cars, and traffic lights fitted in a woman’s breasts depicts how urban living becomes a part of our everyday lives that we even see it as a pleasure—making it hard to distinguish love and lust.
Along the same wall, the innate desire of men and women to share “love” gives Fernando Modesto a means of illustrating using his pen and ink how these people crave for sex and how they would do everything to have it.
Situated on the other side is Mariano Ching’s Transmission Vamp expressing his pity to men and women who just can’t suffice their body’s needs. This time though, due to bodily restraints.
Beside is Nunelucio Alvarado’s Chik Boy and Utang Na Mo speaking of the decisiveness of pimps disguising as Good Samaritans and of Lotharios hiding in the mercy of some people who understands them.
Last in the row is Alwin Reamillo who bugs our conscience with his painting P.I Por Sale, cleverly illustrating how our once-beautiful country, where named and unnamed heroes risked their lives, has become.
For every art piece, there is its creator. For every gallery, there is someone who cherishes working with artists and with the realities they are conveying.
“When I started the gallery, I knew nothing,” confesses Dee, who had taken Psychology in UP Diliman. “I remember, I only got 2.75 in Humanities. My teacher then was Prof. De Leon.”
Twenty-five years before, the gallery was only a frame shop ran by his father. But the business was slowly breathing so Dee’s father asked her to take over. She thought then, “How about art pieces?” And that is how 250 exhibits came to be.
“Working with artists is easy. I sort of pry into their lives. But I don’t take things personally. I mean, I like what I do but I don’t bring it too close to me. Otherwise, I won’t survive.”
She picked her displays through three criteria: “I take note of its craft, if it has something to say, and if it moves, disturbs, or provokes. That makes the craft or the hand, the concept or the head, and the content or the heart. Balance of the three would be the best.” “For art has to be transforming. It has to move a person. What I like about it is when you put 10 persons [in front of a canvass] and they come up with 10 different ideas and levels of interpretation,” she added.
Her two favorite paintings in her exhibit are Legaspi’s Lovers and Reamillo’s P.I Por Sale. “I like them because they depict our present human condition. What have we become as a people? We all have a price now.”
She expects nothing in life anymore though. “I’m making the same number of invitations in my exhibits. There was a time when I just got 8 [guests]. And then, there was a time when I had a thousand. So, why expect?”
Repeating Carlos Castaneda’s lines, she said, “What is important in life is intention. What is important is that you know what to decide on.”
“We should keep our pride and dignity because everything starts from us. Until we recognize that we are all connected, we won’t go anywhere.”