ART & CULTURE

Barbae Glass

MANIFESTATIONS

Words by Danna Gonsalves | Photography by Cru Camara

Christina “Goldie” Poblador sculpts glass for a living. Born and raised in the Philippines, this extremely talented artist moved to New York City eight years ago in pursuit of deeper knowledge about the art and industry of glass. 

 

She first had a taste of what would soon become a lifelong commitment to the craft inside a little hole-in-the-wall workshop at Katipunan, Quezon City. Back then, it had only specialized in chemistry lab sets. Although it was a simple beginning, Goldie still remains partial to glass-flameworking, her first-ever lesson, among all her other sculpting techniques.

 

Over 10 years later, that student from the UP College of Fine Arts is now a featured glass artist in several countries. More impressive than Goldie’s talent are her humility and colorful personality. These I witness during our early morning conversation, her time. We discuss her craft, the intricacies of her pieces, and what the world is now like for artists such as herself amidst the pandemic. Her most recent work, the Barbae Collection of shot glasses and rings, has a most interesting background story. It is also one powerful manifestation for today’s feminist movement. 

 

What's it like being a Filipina creative in New York? What are some of the challenges faced by people of color in the art community there?

 

That’s a really good question. I think all people of color will have their challenges. Getting access to studio facilities is one. It’s just one of the hurdles that we have to go through, right? For ceramicists, it's getting access to a ceramic studio, and for musicians, it's a music studio. Glass is also quite an expensive medium to use, so people of color do have a hard time just being in this industry—and that’s why I feel like it’s such a privilege to be able to do it now. I work in Brooklyn Glass and Urban Glass, and I’m very lucky because the community that I've found is very supportive. Still, I do feel that I’m in the minority, you know? There aren't that many people of color in the glass industry and that's just how it is. When I started my studies here, there was also that challenge of feeling like even people younger than me in the industry had more skills or a bigger skill set than I did. I always felt like I had to catch up and work extra hard. And there’s that saying that when you’re an immigrant you have to work ten times harder to get to the same place as someone else. In my case, it feels true. I always feel like I’m catching up to something…or it could be just me. But it’s definitely still rewarding though. For any artist, just being visible and being able to showcase your art is already so important because it takes so much sacrifice and years of practice. 

So the community in New York kind of treats the journey like a “race.” Do you see it as a “rat race,” too?

 

I think sometimes I do. You know, one can't help it. What they say about New York is that once you’re here, you lose your sense of selfhood sometimes—you just become a person in this big city. When I was still in Manila (I had just finished my thesis and I realized I wanted to pursue glass), I made a little set-up in my parent’s garage. What I would do then was wake up, have a cup of coffee, and go to work, every single day. But here, it’s like first, I have to make sure that I have all the materials and funding necessary for me to have access to the studio, you know? And it kind of feels like a rat race in the sense that everyone, or maybe a lot of people are already good at what you do, no matter what it is that you do. Whether you’re a chef, a dancer, or an actor, you’re bound to find someone else doing it here also. New York is such a center for arts and culture, plus a lot of nationalities come here to live and work. For any occupation, you’d be constantly auditioning against people who are already good, if not the best, in the industry. For me, I had already been used to this in a way. I mean, I’ve been applying and auditioning for things ever since, and after the first few years, I sort of just got numb to all of it and realized that there will always be ways to improve my craft. But the gravity of New York hits differently. That whole “rat race feeling” ended up hitting me stronger the moment I moved here. I felt that it was going to be an uphill battle. I knew that I would have to work hard. 

And the mastery shows. Your pieces are so beautiful and creative. What is the story behind the Barbae Collection? 

 

Aww, thank you so much! It means a lot. Okay, let me tell you the origin story: 

In 2018, I saw something on the news. Someone had announced that female rebels should just be shot in the vagina. I was struck by it because around this time, Donald Trump in the US had also been saying a lot of things about immigrants and the wall. At that time, the leader in the Philippines was saying “Shoot them in the vagina” while in the US, Trump was saying “Grab them by the pussy.” As both a woman and an immigrant, I was feeling really, really censored and silenced by this, and I felt that my presence here was somewhat in danger. I felt such a strong tension, too, with all of the derogatory comments about the female body—and so I thought: “I want to make a piece about this because I don’t want people to keep attributing shame to that femininity.” 

 

I think, personally, as a Filipina in New York, I was going through that same sense of wanting to empower myself. That’s when I had my idea about the shape of the glasses: a vision of the vulva, but as glorified as possible. I wanted to make it look precious-- something beautiful and empowering that you could be proud of it, even if it is feminine. I wanted to introduce a counterpoint to those statements that were always so violent and shameful. I wanted it to look nice and delicate, but strong. And so I thought glass would be an interesting medium to use to translate that idea. I thought of the use of flowers, too, as an image, because they do look like flowers when you think about it. A lot of my work is also inspired by nature, and flowers are, scientifically, an organ for reproduction—life springs from flowers. So this marriage of sorts of my interest in nature and my interpretation of womanhood melded together to create the Barbae Collection.

 

At the onset, I had made six glasses first, and after my studio mates encouraged me to do more, I made 50 glasses shaped like a vulva and turned them into an installation. I collaborated with chef and artist, Tessa Liebman, from Scents of Plates. Together, we worked on an installation that functioned as something like a big scent diffuser. With my glasses and her expertise in food and scents, we poured drinks that would change flavor depending on where people stood in the room. It was called the “Babae Installation” at the time, and it raised awareness on what was happening in the Philippines and in the US. For the scents, we used Ylang-Ylang, a Philippine flower that had sort of been pirated from us and taken all around the world, and Lapsang Souchong, a smoky tea scent from China with a pirated background as well. 

In the same way that Ylang-Ylang and Lapsang Souchong are perceived in a certain way, so are Filipinas or any woman of color perceived as exotified or sometimes “pirated” here in the West. Violence against Asian women can even be seen as a result of them being exotified. There’s an identity or an assumption that’s been put on us, and because of those labels, we are stigmatized. We’re made to believe that we have to function a certain way because of our sexuality. We lose agency over what we can be. With the Barbae sculptures, I feel like they are my way of retaking my own identity and introducing my own version of how I wanted to see myself—myself as a woman and my sexuality. I wanted the glasses to look empowered, beautiful even, and I wanted to celebrate their delicateness and femininity, and show that those traits don’t mean that they’re not strong. That’s what I was trying to do with Barbae.

Wow, that’s so powerful! Especially when it’s understood by your explanation. You didn’t just use glass, you also used scents and flowers, so now there’s so much meaning. You mentioned empowerment. In which aspects specifically do you wish Filipino women feel more empowered?

 

My initial thoughts were that we, as Filipino women, were always censored in a way. Growing up in Manila and then moving here when I was 23, I had felt it. I had to watch what I would say or I had to be sort of demure. I felt like there were two tropes for Filipino women, right? Either you’re one of those FHM ladies, where you’re so overtly sexualized that that’s all you are, or you’re this Maria Clara figure, a chaste sort of woman who, even if she’s already married and has children, still can’t talk about her sexuality and her desires. For my glasses, I had those in mind. I know that there are so many ways in which Filipinas need to be empowered. A lot of women are being kidnapped to do sex work or forced to do sex work, for example. That’s a whole other issue that I feel deserves a conversation led by someone more specialized. Awareness on those issues, in a sense, are another way I wish to empower Filipino women—just knowing about what others may be experiencing, even if we don’t relate to them, is a big step. Like with the struggles of women in the workforce, for instance. Sometimes I would have people comment things like: “Oh, you’re a Filipina? Didn’t we own you before or something?” That kind of language is very insulting, and I know I'm not alone with those kinds of experiences here abroad. I believe in empowering women to feel like they’re much better than that.

 

“That” means being more than the way society sees us? 

 

Yeah, or the way we were trained to see ourselves. There are those things that are so subliminal that we don't even realize how much they’ve affected our self-perception. We’ve gotten used to thinking of ourselves in a certain way because of all these things that have been fed to us. Growing up, for instance, the advertisements were all about white women or white-looking women in the Philippines. And then I come here and I think, “Why is my self-esteem so low?” It stayed with me, until I realized later on that [in terms of the workforce] I deserved to be paid just as much as other people. After that, I reflected on what it was inside my mind telling me that I didn’t deserve to be paid properly. And then the realization became very clear and important to me. Now, I feel that, as much as possible, we ought to help women step up and really believe in their worth. The more that idea spreads, the more normal it will be. 

Then female empowerment is what your pieces in the Barbae Collection strive to manifest. Are they reflections of who you are as an artist?

 

Yes, they’re like mini-mes...or at least, what I strive to be. Each color is named after a person I admire. The mustard or Dijon one is named after Gabriela Silang. The first one I ever named was named Simone, after Simone De Bouveoir. I also have the Anaïs glass and the Octavia Butler glass. I have the Sugarcube, which is named after Björk’s band, because I really love Björk. I still love her. The brown ones are named Brown Sugar and they’re named after my friend, Spring Velvet. That's her artist name. She’s this amazing musician and performing artist that I super look up to. All of my glasses are basically named after these power women—or women I feel have made something substantial out of their lives. They’ve worked hard and made it through with their craft despite the odds set against them. So, with the glasses, I’d say they are more than me. They’re parts of me, but they also symbolize those things I want to be. 

 

Which women are influential to you now? Who were your role models growing up?

 

It sounds cheesy, but you know, my mom has to be one of them. She has been and still is very influential to me. My mom was very unashamed of being feminine, and she was strong. She was also very sensual, and she had her way about people. She now teaches yoga, and I like to think that maybe the spiritual aspect of those glasses comes from her in a way, too, since the glasses also represent the general feminine body in everyone. It probably has roots in Ayurvedic practices or Indian wisdom, which my mom had influenced me a lot in. Besides her, I’d say that there are a lot of other influential people in my life—the artists I know and my friends. My friend, Madeleine, is very empowering. She doesn’t live close to me, but every time I speak with her, I feel better. She’s a designer living in France. My friend, Jasmine Hwang, who is also an artist, works as a curator. Spring Velvet, or Ankita—my friend that I mentioned—is someone I collaborate with. I love hanging out with her and I love speaking with her. My friend, Julia Norton, is also this amazing artist and educator, and we’ve collaborated before on ink bottle sets. She specializes in natural pigments. Generally, I feel like just being with other women artists provides a good and safe environment. I try to surround myself with these inspiring women because they uplift and empower me, and that’s so important. Just meeting these women who are also believing in and working towards their dreams—whether that dream is to be a designer, a musician, a lawyer, or to get a PHDs—is already so influential to me. 

As both a Filipina and a feminist artist, what traits do you think modern Filipinas should exhibit today? 

 

First of all, Filipinas today should know that they can be whatever they want to be, so long as they’re not hurting and damaging others. I would really like to say that Filipinas should remain headstrong. She should know who she wants to be and not be afraid to be that person. Like, who am I to say what a person should be or what the ideal qualities are, right? I'm sure that I lack a lot of things also, but I feel like having self-knowledge and the freedom to believe in that knowledge and selfhood is what I wish for every Filipina. 

As a woman that also wants to empower herself, I can share that throughout my journey, I felt a lot of pushback on what I wanted to be. There were always questions thrown at me, like “Bakit FA? Bakit mo gustong maging artist?” or “Why glass? Why installation art? You know that it’s the hardest thing, and you know that it’s hard to sell. It’s so delicate and rare!” People would assume that just because there are only a few of you in that certain field, it means that it’s not a good career to pursue already. There’s just always going to be resistance, you know? But, what I wish for Filipinas is that despite the odds, they will still try and believe in themselves enough to push through with it. 

 

I want Filipinas to start believing in whatever it is they get their happiness and joy from, and own up to it, so that maybe someday, they can be inspirations to someone who might want to do it also. I remember so clearly how it felt to doubt whether or not, as an artist, I was essential during this pandemic. There were these thoughts like, “Am I essential? What should I do? Should I still advertise?” I doubted until I was inspired by my friend Yiyi Mendoza, who’s a ceramicist. She told me that even if it is hard right now and the world is in so much pain—as artists of color who have access to facilities, our work was still important. We’re showing other artists who have similar dreams that these things can still happen. By our access, then these artists can have access, too. I mean it wasn’t easy for artists like me who had to start out in New York City, out of all places, but I was able to gain access, and just being in the industry is already such a blessing. It took a lot of sacrifices too, I want to be transparent with that. I know that as a sculptor, I might not be the most essential worker, but in a way, I know the work is still of importance. And for those Filipino artists who are still trying to do what they love, I just wish they never give up. For Filipinos, as well as everyone else, I want them to know that there is an industry for it—for beauty, for culture, and other things that deserve to thrive and exist especially during these hard times.