Spike Island presents Life in the Margins, the first exhibition in the UK by Filipino-American artist Pacita Abad (1946–2004). Curated by London-based artist Pio Abad and Spike Island Director Robert Leckie, the exhibition includes over 20 large-scale ‘trapunto’ paintings and other works on fabric made between 1983 and 2003.
Trapunto refers to a quilting technique that Abad began experimenting with in the late 1970s, in which canvasses are padded and stitched before being painted and layered with a range of printed textiles and objects, including buttons, sequins and shells. Characterised by their vibrant colour and intricate construction, these works combine a broad range of styles, subjects and techniques, from social realist tableaus incorporating indigenous textiles, to richly detailed abstractions inspired by Korean brush painting and Papua New Guinean macramé.
Born in the Philippines, Abad travelled extensively and lived in many different countries throughout her life, including Bangladesh, Sudan, Indonesia, Singapore, and the United States. This itineracy has, in many ways, defined and shaped her work. The Immigrant Experience series (1991–94), for example, depicts the lives and experiences of the Asian, African and Latin American immigrants that she encountered in the US and elsewhere. This includes Cambodian refugees rebuilding their lives in Washington D.C., Korean shopkeepers trying to make ends meet in San Francisco, and Haitians engaged in domestic labour in Guantanamo Bay. The Endless Blues (2000-03) series, on the other hand, renders this aggregate approach to culture differently. Made towards the end of her life, these works do away with figuration altogether, instead embedding the colour, energy and vibrancy of a life on the road in equally diverse forms of abstraction. Made midway between the two series, further paintings such as The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling (1998) – a large-scale abstract work made in response to the end of Suharto’s three-decade-long presidency of Indonesia – demonstrate how these seemingly distinct formal approaches fundamentally align in their attempt to picture personal responses to social, cultural or political upheaval.
This pluralist approach to image-making across cultures, histories and styles underpins Abad’s work throughout the decades. Focusing in on minority experiences and techniques, her exhibition at Spike Island offers an informed and idiosyncratic global perspective on art-making as a cultural tradition rooted in many places at once, long before discourses on globalisation and transnationalism began to shape the production and interpretation of contemporary art.
 Macramé: textiles produced by knotting, rather than weaving or knitting.
Born in the Philippines in 1946, Pacita Abad studied painting at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. and the Arts Student League in New York. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila; National Museum, Jakarta; Hong Kong Arts Centre; The Museum of Philippine Art, Manila; Cultural Center of the Philippines, Manila; Bhirasri Museum of Modern Art, Bangkok; Singapore Tyler Print Institute; The National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; and the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, among others. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including: Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art, a traveling exhibition organized by the Asia Society, New York (1996); Beyond the Border: Art by Recent Immigrants, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (1994); Olympiad of Art, National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul (1988); La Segunda Bienal de la Habana (1986), Havana; and the 2nd Asian Art Show, Fukuoka Art Museum (1985). Her work can be found in the collections of Tate Modern, London; M+ Museum, Hong Kong and the National Gallery of Singapore. She died in Singapore in 2004.