On putting value to yourself: Jea Nuñez note to local artists

On putting value to yourself: Jea Nuñez note to local artists
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AT the age of 27, Jezza Mae Nuñez-Fuentes, better known as Jea Nuñez, has learned the importance of valuing oneself as a female visual artist. This understanding came despite the challenges posed by those who fail to appreciate the significance of art in our society.

Born into a family of artists, Nuñez’s exposure to visual art began in her childhood. Her father, a visual artist himself, involved her in various art projects, ranging from murals to streamers, fostering an early appreciation for the artist’s life.

Nuñez pursued a Bachelor of Arts in English at Mindanao State University and, upon graduating in 2018, took up a position as an elementary teacher in a private school in GenSan. This detour from her artistic aspirations was a common path for fresh graduates, but it left Nuñez feeling unfulfilled. A year later, she decided to resign.

Despite being an introvert and lacking confidence in social interactions, Nuñez felt a compelling urge to pursue her passion for visual art full-time. In April 2019, she decided to follow her heart.

“I reject the notion of working merely to survive. My decision to become a full-time visual artist has raised eyebrows, with some suggesting I take the LET exam and pursue teaching. But as an individual, that path doesn’t bring me joy,” expressed Nuñez.

Embarking on this unconventional path presented its own set of challenges. As a young artist still establishing her name, Nuñez sometimes faced clients who underestimated her and undervalued her work. Yet, she remains undeterred, committed to her artistic journey.

“You may encounter clients who approach you differently. For instance, they might negotiate the cost of your mural painting. It’s important to remember that the price you set for your work is a reflection of its value,” she expressed.

In the early days of her collaboration with her father, they grappled with how to appropriately price a commissioned mural. Nuñez recalls her father’s words: “bahala gamay bayad basta quality work” (It’s okay if the payment is small, as long as the work is of quality), emphasizing the importance of quality over compensation.

Some clients harbor misconceptions about the work of visual artists. They might perceive them as mere “tig pintora,” a term typically used for ordinary painters or carpenters hired on a “pakyawan” basis. Nuñez has made efforts to educate such clients about the true value of their artistic work.

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In her commissioned work, Nuñez often encountered clients who would negotiate for a lower price or request to reserve a piece, only to cancel later. These experiences led her to establish a standard rate and implement a contract for her protection. An architect she met offered valuable advice: to approach clients with confidence, ensuring she commands the respect she deserves.

For Nuñez, being a full-time visual artist offers her the freedom to manage her own time and provides a certain level of financial independence. It has taught her how to interact with a diverse range of people, market her work effectively, and reap the benefits of her efforts.

However, Nuñez also acknowledges her fears of judgment and criticism. She admits to a tendency to overthink, which can sometimes hinder her focus on her work. There was a period when she grappled with mental health issues, having been clinically diagnosed with post-partum depression and anxiety. Remarkably, her painting became a form of therapy, serving as a healing outlet for Nuñez.

Artworks celebrating womanhood

Nuñez is a dynamic presence in the Philippine art scene, actively participating in a variety of art events, leading seminars and workshops, and receiving commissions from diverse institutions and establishments. Through these endeavors, she is steadily building her credentials and expanding her network.

Nuñez is known for her paintings, many of which explore feminist themes, drawing deeply from her personal experiences and struggles.

Her inaugural painting series, which boldly addresses the theme of female nudity, initially raised questions about its marketability. However, Nuñez later demonstrated the intrinsic value of her art when an art collector from Koronadal City purchased a piece from her “Nude Series”.

The “Nude Series” was born from Nuñez’s insecurities, frustrations, and anxieties as a mother and female artist. Through this series, she sought to convey a powerful message: to embrace one’s body. Nuñez firmly believes that the perceived imperfections of a woman’s body do not define her worth.

Nuñez unveiled her empowering exhibit, “I am Woman – A Bold Artistic Manifesto,” on April 2, which will be on display until April 19 at SM City General Santos. The “I am Woman” exhibit marks a triumphant return for Nuñez following her hiatus. 

“As an emerging artist, this art exhibit is crucial for showcasing my work to a broader audience, gaining exposure, and establishing my presence in the art community. It provides an opportunity to make more connections, receive feedback, and attract potential art collectors and clients. Exhibitions can also serve as a platform for self-expression and validation of my artistic journey,” she said. 

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This exhibit, curated by Leonardo Rey “Bing” Cariño, forms part of the ongoing “Emergence” series, showcasing the talents of eight rising young visual artists from Soccsksargen or SOX.

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Cariño, a stalwart in both the local and national art scenes, has devoted many years to cultivating young talent and guiding them through the complex labyrinth of the art world. He is the visionary behind “Emergence: Emerging Young Artists of SOX,” an inventive art exhibit that skillfully transforms various spaces within SM City General Santos into platforms for their work.

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Nuñez’s works mirror her struggles as a woman, resonating with the experiences of contemporary women everywhere. She prefers not to spoon-feed the viewers with the meanings of her paintings, encouraging them to engage and interpret her art on their terms.

A prevalent challenge faced by local artists in the region is finding a market for their artworks.

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Many struggle to sell their creations. However, Nuñez has been fortunate. With a strong network and the guidance of her mentors, she has successfully navigated this landscape. She also recognizes that there is still much work to be done to ascend to the next level in her career as a visual artist.

“Seize every opportunity that crosses your path if you’re truly passionate about it,” she advised.

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Fortunately, Nuñez’s husband is a strong supporter of her career as a visual artist. Together, they run a small business that helps sustain their freelance lifestyle and support their family. In addition to her art, Nuñez conducts painting workshops and offers home-based painting tutorials.

She has set her sights on hosting a major solo exhibit, viewing it as a significant step in advancing her career as a visual artist.

Nuñez harnesses the power of social media to showcase her work to a wider audience. She has amassed a substantial following on platforms like TikTok and Facebook, where she not only shares her finished paintings but also offers a glimpse into the creative process behind them.

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Her exceptional talent and contributions to the art world have been recognized with numerous awards. These include the NCCA-Espasyong Bayan Grantee in 2023, the NCCA-National Committee on Visual Arts Sineng Sining Award in 2022, and the General Santos City Youth Achievers Award for Artistic Discipline in 2022. Her work continues to inspire and influence the Philippine art community.

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She views this as her spotlight in the creative field. It is not merely about displaying her work, but it is akin to unveiling her artistic side for everyone to see and experience. She is a staunch supporter of local artists. She sees this as a wonderful opportunity to inspire and encourage everyone to support artists within their community. 

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In addition to underscoring the importance of artists valuing their work, Nuñez also advocates for greater support from local government for the arts and artists. She envisions an ideal scenario where policies and events are in place to bolster local artists across all art forms.

She nurtures the aspiration that, in time, a growing audience will recognize and value the work of local artists. This would ensure that future emerging artists would not have to grapple with the same hurdles that she and her contemporaries have faced in their journey.

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