The Poetics in Agnes Arellano’s Pleiades

Significantly placed on a spot where the cadena de amor thrives in front of the Vargas Museum, Arellano’s Pleiades is composed of four separate sculptures, somewhat set in sea green color with touches of glittering gold that almost blends with the environment unless lighted at night. Arellano’s work is missing three of the supposedly seven goddesses of the Pleiades myth.

In Arellano’s version, one goddess comes from the Indian myth, Kali, who transformed into a woman, her strength is ironically calm and her eyes cast downwards, but she retains her fangs. She is adorned with a necklace of dismembered fingers and a belt of dismembered hands. She holds the head of her victim in one of her four hands, while her other right hand raised high above her head is an axe of the Kalinga group used specifically for beheading.

Then there is the many-breasted figure Arellano named Inanna, which is a reminiscent of Rita Gudino’s Mebuyan sa Idalmunon, a Bagobo goddess who rises from the kalawakan and travels the dead to the eternal. Inanna, also known as Ishtar, is originally a Sumerian goddess of love, war, combat and political power and is normally depicted with only one pair of breasts. Arellano depicted Inanna holding the knot (or girdle) of the Egyptian goddess Isis in her right hand. The conch on the left hand signifies the sound of the universe, Arellano explains. Supposedly a combatant, in Arellano’s depiction, Inanna is at rest or maybe in a trance.

Dakini, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is a tantric priestess who also travels the dead to the eternal but unlike the Mebuyan, she carries the dead to the sky. She is said to have a volatile temperament, but in Arellano’s version she is calm with eyes cast downward. She holds the vajdra (lightning bolt) and a bowl that in traditional narrative is said to hold menstrual blood. Then there is Magdalene, the representation of the Magna Mater, with her serene gaze and round belly betoken an ode to life and motherhood.

In Ars Poetica, Horace wrote, “Either follow tradition or invent a consistent story.” In Agnes Arellano’s work, what can be seen as consistent is the theme on the sacred feminine when she tries to weave foreign and local myths using the Pleiades myth. It is probably in the pursuit of the rejection of the traditional and false dichotomies set by Western perspectives on the sacred and feminine that Arellano attempts to combine Philippine myths with the foreign, or any myth for that matter. Yet the ideal figure of the female, the quintessential image of youth, beauty and proportion retains. She has muted the goddesses, removed their energies and replaced them with stoic countenance. The work exudes an equivocal response because what transpires in her work is a blurry appropriation, a reworking of images from different sources, or shall we say, a bricolage in an attempt to unify the sacred feminine trope.