follow us on

Artist Phyllis Zaballero Joins Art Fair Philippines 2024's "Pambabae" Exhibit

The spotlight is finally trained on women in Philippine visual arts. Legendary artist Phyllis Zaballero leads the charge for much-needed representation in the upcoming Art Fair Philippines 2024 through the exhibit “PAMBABAE: Exploring Abstraction by Women Artists 1969-1989”


On a chilly afternoon, visual artist and painter Phyllis Zaballero warmly let Metro.Style in on her impressive sanctuary—her atelier. Noted by her works marked with signature dynamic line and vivid colors, Zaballero and her knack for neatly organizing and orderly cataloguing her stuff in that space for her art is a complete opposite of the creative chaos we expected. She is not only a spectacular visual storyteller, she’s also quite an interesting conversationalist in person. 

“I don’t think you should judge an artwork by the gender of its art maker,” remarks Zaballero, who signs her artwork with her masculine-sounding married name very early on that people were surprised back then that she’s actually a woman. 

“I do strong abstract work and some are very geometric so they would always presume I was a man,” she laughs.


Zaballero spent her formative years in the United States and Europe and was awarded an Associate in Arts degree with first honors at Barcelona, Spain in 1960. When she returned to the Philippines, she earned a degree in Economics at the University of the Philippines and went back there and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting in 1978. In that same year, she was named one of the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Thirteen Artists Awardees and began a seven-year teaching career at UP Diliman. Over the years, she has received numerous study grants for culture and the arts from the governments and private foundations of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Portugal and Macau. She has also participated in several solo shows and group exhibitions in various countries.

In her over four decades of practice, she has experienced the highs and lows of being an artist and to a degree, being a woman in the art scene. Zaballero finds it a blessing to be a part of events and movement that features the works of women prominently which includes being a part of the Art Fair Philippines 2024’s "PAMBABAE: Exploring Abstraction by Women Artists 1969-1989."

The special exhibit, curated by Miguel Rosales, aims to explore Abstract Art created by a selection of female artists which features the artworks of Zaballero, Evelyn Collantes, Ivi Avellana Cosio, Lilian Hwang, Ileana Lee, and Nelfa Querubin, between 1969 to 1989—a period which saw the flourishing of creativity in the arts in the country. According to Art Fair Philippines, “This exhibit will showcase a mix of names from the recognized to those who are ready to be reexamined for their contributions. Most of these female artists have largely been overshadowed by their male contemporaries, and many rightfully deserve a reappraisal. The works on exhibit will not only showcase painting, but will also include printmaking and ceramic works.”

“I believe a lot on accidental gifts from above. Something clicks at certain points of your life. And I’ve always been astounded to how I ended up where I am. I didn’t mean to but here it is. One of my frustrations is that female artists are not well-received many times nor were we bothered about. People don’t really go out of their way for us. The women artists themselves feed into this by being a little sort of in the background, humble—not my way of life (laughs). They tend to marry male artists and become the rooting section for their husbands, of course to help them out. Their own career takes a backseat,” Zaballero observes.

The visual artist sees the Art Fair Philippines exhibit as an opportunity to uplift the women in the industry. “I was really happy when I was approached. The title ‘Pambabae,’ in translation, is ‘for women.’ It’s not ‘about women,’ which is ‘tungkol sa babae.’ With ‘Pambabae,’ it’s for us. When Art Fair came to me, I said all right,” she shares.

She considers the start of her professional career as an artist after graduating from Fine Arts in UP Diliman and started her artwork with abstraction with notable pieces from 1978 to 1989. With this year’s Art Fair exhibit theme for ‘Pambabae’ on abstraction, Zaballero feels it’s a callback to her beginning.

“The killer was this: it’s not going to be my recent work. My work has evolved from a lot. I’ve been in this for 46 years so something has to happen, right? I have so much to show and when I was told it will be about abstraction, I said I never paint the past again now but I’m excited. When I was told that the young collectors now are looking for old abstract paintings, I thought, ‘Well, maybe my early times have come along.’ I’ve kept quite a few. I get very attached to my paintings. If they don’t sell it, I keep some I like or I give them away to people who I know love them but cannot afford them,” she shares.

Zaballero proceeds to discuss her journey from abstraction to her evolving work in visual arts.

“One of the things that I’ve loved was abstraction and I didn’t consciously think about it until I was in the class of Bobby Chabet. Ironically, we started by him asking us to copy the masters and real classics from the old ones. That was to prepare us for abstraction. I ended up loving geometrics and loving color. But I had to interject my own touch so it had to be something that I [could] splash on. That’s how it all began and was quite happy,” Zaballero narrates.


However, she chose to move on from abstraction and explore other ways to creatively express herself. “I question myself all the time. You should never be too happy with yourself. You should always want to do something else—maybe better. The trouble with artists, a lot of them, they fall into this hazy rut. It was popular and being sold so ‘Hey, I’ll do this.’ Me? I was always suspicious of the marketplace,” she laughs, her sharp wit showing.

Zaballero continues, “I question myself all the time because the answers surprise me. I was doing the grid [technique] from splash. I wanted to be more measured so I was doing the grid. I was going to get out of this grid rut and I slowly came out. Since I have been exposed to a lot of paintings all my life and I love to travel and I love to do sketches, it all evolved and I said ‘I was always good at representation.’ It’s how I began. It’s a mix of abstraction and I throw in some representation. And then I gave in to my other interests like cooking and food because it gave me the color that I wanted. I’ve always loved color. For me, my art has always been [about] color.”

Asked what currently inspires her paintings and visual artworks, Zaballero gave a meaningful and profound response.

“It’s a little depressing because my state of mind is in the state of my age. When you’re young or middle aged, you always think I’ve got a long life ahead of me and I was always putting things aside. ‘I’ll finish this later,’ then later has become now. It is now later. I said, ‘No, I’m going back to my roots’ and I started cleaning out my drawers and found all of my sketch books from day one. Look at these little treasures! At a certain minute in time, I was standing in this place and I was sketching this. It was, to me, more authentic than sitting for hours and days in front of a canvas. This bit of pencil, pen and ink, is more me. I brought them out and this is my new thing now. I have revived and given a second life to my sketches. It has become what I call illuminations. It gives me hope that my right hand and my eyes [can still be used in this age]—I’m not going to go ballroom dancing anyway,” she jokes. Zaballero was born in 1942 but her dynamism and creative energy give off youthful exuberance.


“The thing is, I think now is my time for tying up loose ends and in my art as well. I’m bringing out my old art like this forest scene I gave up on 30 years ago, I’ve unrolled it and now I’m finishing it. This is it—no regrets,” she remarks wisely.

Art Fair Philippines 2024’s PAMBABAE exhibit gives her a chance to advocate for women and their journey in the country’s art scene.

“I want visitors to understand that actually, without their or us knowing it, we were one of the firsts to do a lot of the kind of art that we were doing on top of everything else that a woman must do. It’s better late than never. That now maybe women will be given some credit,” she says.

Zaballero is passionate in this cause especially after looking at the list of Philippine national artists in visual arts and found that “not one woman is named in that.”

“I’m happy. Women are being acknowledged, so thanks to Art Fair Philippines. Maybe some young people are looking at some old abstract art which they think are trendy but has been around for a long time,” she concludes. And maybe, just maybe, people will finally discover that women have always been powerful moving forces in the country’s early abstraction and more.


Watch our full Metro Talks interview with artist Phyllis Zaballero:

Happening on February 16 to 18 at The Link in Makati City, this year's edition of Art Fair Philippines features 55 gallery exhibitions, a multi-level show of the best in Filipino modern and contemporary art, and a comprehensive, timely, and vibrant program that provides fair visitors opportunities to deepen their exposure and enhance their engagement with art.

Tickets to the fair are now available online at Regular tickets, available for Php 750.00, will provide visitors access to exhibitions by participating galleries from the Philippines and overseas and all ArtFairPH sections including ArtFairPH/Projects, ArtFairPH/Photo, ArtFairPH/Digital, ArtFairPH/Residencies Exhibit, and the ArtFairPH/Talks Program. 

Tickets will also be available at the 4th Floor Reception of Art Fair Philippines at The Link, Makati City from February 16 to 18. Concession and discounted tickets for students, PWD, and senior citizens are also available on-site. 

The participating exhibitors from the Philippines are Altro Mondo, Art Cube Gallery, Art Elaan, Art for Space, Art Lounge Manila, Art Underground, Art Verité Gallery, Avellana Art Gallery, Boston Art Gallery, CANVAS, Cartellino, Galeria Paloma, Galerie Stephanie, Gravity Art Space, J STUDIO, Kaida Contemporary, León Gallery, METRO Gallery, Modeka Art, MONO8, Orange Project, Paseo Art Gallery, Pintô Art Museum and Arboretum, Qube Gallery, Richard Koh Fine Art, Secret Fresh Gallery, SILVERLENS, Superduper Art Gallery, TARZEER PICTURES, THE CRUCIBLE GALLERY, TRIANGULUM, Vantage Contemporary, Village Art Gallery, White Walls Gallery, and Ysobel Art Gallery.

The Philippines’ leading galleries will be joined by a wider roster of foreign galleries including Art Agenda (Singapore and Indonesia), Artemis Art (Malaysia), Gajah Gallery (Singapore and Jakarta), Galería Cayón (Spain), GALLERY KOGURE,  (Japan), Kobayashi Gallery (Japan), Mind Set Art Center (Taiwan),  Nunu Fine Art (Taiwan), Yiri Arts (Taiwan), The Columns Gallery (South Korea), SHUKADO+GALLERY SCENA (Japan), Vin Gallery (Vietnam), Yavuz Gallery (Singapore and Australia), and YOD Gallery (Japan).

Art Fair Philippines 2024 also welcomes the participation of incubator spaces, ArtFairPH/Incubators, creative spaces outside the mainstream gallery format including exhibitors Authenticity Zero, isTorya Studios, Manila Illustration Fair, Pangasinan Group, Talyer 15, and The Empty Scholar. 

Art Fair Philippines also invites all ticket holders to check the 10 Days of Art calendar of events at 10 Days of Art is a program that runs from February 10 to 19, highlighting a series of events around the Makati Central Business District with participation by galleries, museums, bars, restaurants, and retail establishments celebrates art beyond the venue of the fair.

For more information, visit the Art Fair Philippines website and follow Art Fair Philippines on Instagram (@artfairph) and Facebook (

Photos by Spotlight Creatives