Arts & Culture

Artist Nona Garcia Talks About the Value of Art During the Pandemic

She is one of nine artists whose works are showcased in the current edition of the Gallery Children's Biennale in Singapore.

Photography: Courtesy of Nona Garcia/National Gallery Singapore

Filipina artist Nona Garcia is known for her brooding realism that evokes solitude and nostalgia, as well as for her use of x-ray images in her pieces. A long-time regular in the international art scene, she is one of the nine the artists featured for this edition of Gallery Children’s Biennale of the National Gallery Singapore. While the months-long event has always championed children’s creative immersion in the arts through fun and interactive installations, this year, it has launched its first-ever global “phygital” experience—with a mix of online and offline activities, the Biennale has opened its digital doors in late May 2021, and will soon open its physical doors in September.

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Nona’s work entitled “Illuminate” gives children the chance to create unique collages using x-ray images of animal bones and corals arranged against otherworldly backdrops. In an interview with Real Living, she shares her process, as well as the importance of art in the midst of a pandemic.


Real Living: What was the starting point of you conceptualizing the whole piece?

Nona Garcia: Noong 2018, I was part of the Asia Pacific Triennale, I had work there na x-ray based na it’s a window-based installation that’s made out of hundreds of x-rays of bones and corals.  With that I also had a children’s art activity, where the kids were encouraged to form their own patterns using x-ray images na magnets.

‘Yon ‘yong start-off point for this particular activity, but of course we needed to convert it into a digital format.

Real Living: How has the pandemic affected your art?

Nona Garcia: Well, I think as artists, we the had the least adjustment. Kasi parang usually naman lahat kami nasa studio lang painting, or working. Actually, we mostly had more time to do studio work. But in terms of… Gallery Children’s Biennale, I think that [the] challenging part was converting or translating a physical activity…[for] a digital platform…since it’s not my language, ‘yong digital format.


Real Living: How was your creative process for the Children Biennale, since, as you’ve mentioned it’s quite a different platform from what you’re used to?

Nona Garcia: First, the children’s activity was originally imagined as a physical activity, and then ginawa ko na lang ‘yong pinaka-direct translation niya. In September, there would be a physical space in the gallery na parang mas-immersive, because what we did was make a background, a panorama of a cityscape, mayroong forest, mayroong outer space, may underwater and mayroon parang beach scene. So, in the same way, it mirrors the online activity where you choose a background, and with that background, with the x-ray images, the children [can] create digital collages.


Real Living: One of the points for reflection for this Biennale was “why art matters.” How do you think your work has answered this, especially in the middle of a pandemic?

Nona Garcia: We know that artists have different points of view. It’s a way a of looking at things differently… Especially this activity catered for kids, I think it’s a way to keep them alive. To keep them alive and creative, and to see things beyond what’s happening now.

Real Living: What would be the whole message you’d like your work to impart?

Nona Garcia: X-ray images…reveal what can’t be seen by the naked eye. So, it’s about the details... For children to learn that looking at details is important, but it’s as important to look at the bigger picture.


You can experience the Gallery Children's Biennale for yourself at Children Biennale (

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