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Maris Aznar Holopainen and Qube Gallery Cebu Take Art Awareness And Education Seriously

It was a balmy evening when a group of like-minded individuals gathered for good food, wine, and company at the beautiful home of Maris Aznar Holopainen. The lighting was perfectly subdued and some areas glowed with the softness of candlelight. The hostess padded around barefoot and that set the intimate and relaxed tone for the night. Good energy filled the space and upon viewing the art objects, paintings, and antiques closely, one could not help but be piqued by the stories behind their acquisition. It was also a peek into the owner’s personality.   

It has been eight years since Holopainen returned to Cebu, where her mother’s prominent family has deep roots. Her Finnish father’s occupation brought his family all over the world and they lived in Somalia, Thailand, and Finland. When he passed away, the three siblings relocated back to Cebu with their mother. She went to Ateneo de Manila for university and to the London School of Economics for her master’s degree. She shares, “After following an expat career path of 12 years in Jakarta, mostly employed in consulting firm Andersen and some time in Moscow and Kazakhstan,  I am now back home in Cebu with my three teenagers. The best homecoming is that I spend weekends in Makati and weekdays in my beloved Cebu.”

Art has always been a passion, but she did not expect to be running an art gallery. By accident, she met the previous gallery owner and they joined forces to expand on Qube Gallery. However, her former partner decided to focus on another business so Holopainen now happily mans the ship with a new group. “When you love what you do, all else follows. It’s a great departure from the corporate world. It started off as a hobby and now it is full-time. After seeing the healthy art scene overseas, I was interested to see what was available locally. Manila seemed very mature. I started collecting pieces that I love through a gallery owner who is also a friend. I still go to this gallery for significant investment pieces, but I wanted to see what was available in Cebu and tap Cebuano and Visayan artists.” 

Holopainen shares that they started the gallery as an advocacy, to provide a venue for contemporary Cebuano artists to exhibit both locally and at the art spaces of their national and international affiliates and partner galleries. They also bring in exhibits from Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao to Cebu. “I feel that we have contributed by allowing different art styles to thrive, and bringing an appreciation of more contemporary themes other than parochial mother-and-child and harvest subject matters, yet staying true to the techniques and skills that are the strengths of Cebuano traditions.”

When asked how different cultural experiences have developed her appreciation for art, she says, “Living overseas all my life has allowed me to develop quite a worldly perspective and an eclectic collection of art. I try to collect things that are meaningful for me.  As a grown-up, Indonesia allowed me to dabble in their very rich art history and I became familiar with gallery operations and the big auction scene, where we have purchased most of our Indonesian art pieces. Jakarta has a rich contemporary art scene and like other big cities, have many up-and-coming artists. Moscow and Kazakhstan had an interesting art scene and I especially like the works that broke away from the Soviet repression and dreariness. The Russian lacquer and Gzhel ceramics were to die for! I brought home a working antique samovar in mint condition. In Kazakhstan, it was the Central Asian carpets from the legendary Silk Road that are an art form altogether. I can just marvel at their details for hours.”

She shares how one can go about curating a personal collection. “My advice to those starting their own collection is to buy what you love always. Trust your instincts. It really helps to work with a gallery, as top galleries carry quality work. In my opinion, if the amount is affordable, do not think twice about it. If it is a serious investment, then do the proper research on both the artist and gallery. The artist must have an academic pedigree or a solid foundation in arts if you are looking at investment pieces. So really buy what you love. I do not worry about where to put anything and how things match, I find a way to make things work and move things around every month or so, nothing has a permanent spot. My aesthetic and preference veer towards contemporary art. When the opportunity knocks to acquire Cebuano masters and keep their memories alive, I seldom say no. Thus, I acquired the mother and child collage by Edgar Mojares from the ’80s. He was a reclusive Cebuano artist who trained in the University of the Philippines and was a master of the collage technique. Another important work is Manuel Rodriguez Sr.’s black and white print of a man on a carabao. It is part of a collection of prints from his New York series. The centenarian is widely acknowledged as the father of printmaking in the Philippines.”

This writer has indeed witnessed the increased art awareness and education through Qube Gallery’s efforts. It has become a venue of intelligent cultural exchange. They make art accessible to all by offering varied art styles and media and promoting established and up-and-coming artists through ongoing exhibits. 


Article originally published in Metro Society's August 2015 issue / Photographs by Dan Douglas Ong / Minor edits have been made for Metro.Style