An extraordinary woman

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Sunday, July 27, 2014


IT'S not every day that one gets to meet an employee who gets so emotional to the point of crying when she talks about how amazing her boss is. It is even more uncommon to meet a person who has an impressive collection, numbering hundreds, of the best artwork by the finest and well-renowned artists in the country.

To top it all, this “amazing boss” and this art collector extraordinaire are but one person—Maris Aznar Holopainen.

Other than being the granddaughter of the founders of one of the biggest and most respected medical schools in the country, few people really know her. Fewer still know how she has touched many people’s lives, making them happier and more fruitful.

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These are mostly ordinary people: the university staff, the school athletes, the janitors and security guards, the drivers, and now, the local artists.

Right after graduating from high school, Maris left the country to study at the London School of Economics, and has since worked and lived abroad.

She came back to Cebu only four years ago because of a sense of obligation to the family. And what a comeback!

She was then elected chairperson of the board of directors of Southwestern University (SWU), and two years later she was at the helm of a local art gallery, raising the bar of the art scene in Cebu, making it more professional than just being a mere “hobby.”

“Although I have a passion for creative art, I don’t dabble in it. I can’t even draw. My taking over Qube Gallery was purely an accident. I just went there to look at some paintings and the next thing I knew ‘it’ was being offered to me,” Maris recalls with some amusement. “But I’m really glad I accepted, and I’m very excited about this since I know there is no other serious art gallery in Cebu. I wanted to make the gallery on the same level with those in Manila and make it the premier gallery in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. We will try to veer away from being just an ‘art merchant.’ We hope to provide an opportunity for up-and-coming artists to showcase their work and encourage art patrons to sponsor an artist,” she added.

Already, Qube Gallery has given this vision definite shape and bright color. Art lovers and patrons and regular buyers flock to the gallery, located at the ground floor of The Henry Hotel, every three weeks when it exhibits works not only of local artists but also of foreign counterparts. Recently, it hosted “One Man Sio,” the first major art exhibit of UP professor Sio Montera. Ongoing is the exhibit of German digital artist and Quiz Taxi TV star, Thomas Van Klettenberg, dubbed “Trust Me, I’m Crazy.”

For the gallery’s anniversary show in October, it will feature the works of the famous Hans Brumman wall-mounted sculpture of modern crosses finely designed in three types of wood and mother-of-pearl.

“The gallery holds a lot of promise. We have a full calendar until March next year.

And we’ll be able to promote local art abroad. In fact on Nov. 20-23 we will be in Singapore for the ‘The Affordable Art Show’,” Maris revealed with a hint of excitement. The Affordable Art Show, which originated in London and now held in major cities in the world, is one of the top-notch events in the industry related to art.

The fair is being tailored to attract eager art-buying crowd since it showcases “affordable” contemporary art at the same time promoting original works of art. The fair is only for art galleries and dealers in the Asia-Pacific region rather than for individual artists.

“It is such a surprise that Cebuanos are looking for art work and are starting to buy expensive art, and even experimental and abstract art, not just the traditional parochial scenes. I also hope that the gallery will become not only the artists’ partner but more of their best friend. I never failed to be humbled with so much talent and a lot creativity around,” Maris confessed.

This passion for the arts and compassion for her fellow human being resonate in the school campus of SWU.

One can’t help but notice that beautiful paintings adorn most offices and even the school lobbies. Employees and students alike are happy and full of confidence with a very professional board of directors. One department head commented: “Ma’am Maris has done so much for the school. She has revived the university sports program, which boosted the morale of our athletes.” And some of her staff said, “She’s a genuine person—sincere, honest and very committed. While she accords everyone importance she herself does not want to be made important, she shuns the VIP effect. She will always want to help solve our problems.”

A relative also made this observation: “She’s really good for the school because she’s very diplomatic and a peacemaker.”

It certainly is not every day that you get to meet someone like Maris Aznar Holopainen.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 28, 2014.

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