A quick scan of the global art scene seems to show a recent trend in art production that refers to artists in “diaspora”.
“Diaspora” (pronounced , Di-as-po-ra) refers to the dispersion or spread of a people from their original homeland either in waves of immigration or individually, usually in order
to escape a threat or for employment opportunities. The dream is to search for a better life, a life that cannot be achieved in one’s home country.
For artists, leaving a country often entails bringing the home culture with them and preserving it, through the art forms they practice. Some people travel with culture as their only piece of personal luggage, which creates an environment for genuine compromise and conciliation, fosters tolerance of diverse cultures within communities, and prepares one to contribute both artistically and economically within the global society.
For Janine Barrera, as a young artist in the Philippines who had gained recognition through major awards as a student and arts practitioner, the opportunity to study in the United States to further her art education put her on the first step towards becoming herself part of this “diaspora”. Her education in the US allowed her to hone on the skills and knowledge she had acquired in UP Fine Arts, and especially as one of the favorite mentees of the late Dean Martino Abellana. His tutelage inspired Barrera’s work in ways she has, up to this day, been cognizant about. Having a strong base of portraiture like her mentor, her US education allowed Barrera to explore and become confident in her own style of landscapes and abstract work.
The choice to stay in the US instead of returning to Cebu was a simpler one for her: as she had married and started a family in the US. That her husband is also Filipino perhaps influences Barrera in her works.
To the viewer, her strong works that, given “diaspora” as the theme, may be translated as her projection of an angst to be home. On the contrary, once you know the artist and the subjects of her work: you see a stillness, a confidence, a calmness - almost a sense of gratitude really knowing that, while indeed there is “no place like home”, her home by choice is the US. She paints with a love for US nature with a slight Philippine aesthetic, but more so a seeming gratitude to be have been able to have a long career as a studio artist. With almost sponge-like confidence, Barrera paints like a Filipina with international aesthetic.
Or does she paint like a global citizen with Philippine aesthetic?
That is the discourse that we can contribute about the “diaspora”. The art is not so much about a longing for a romantic version of home, but more about finding home where one lives.
Barrera says, “As a Filipino living in diaspora, the strange new landscape was a constant source of both joy and pain as I navigated through the everyday practices and complex dynamics of integration, as I tried to carve out a “home" and a sense of “belonging", far away from what was once familiar and held dear.”