Nika Dizon uses her penchant for surrealism to create colorful and imaginative artworks that entertains darker ideas.
Words by Mara Fabella; Artwork photos by Abdullah Ali Mapandi
“Somewhat disturbing, and somewhat comforting.” Nika Dizon uses these curious words to describe her art. How does one find comfort in the disturbing? In the case of Dizon’s paintings, perhaps it lies in her bright, cheerful colors that belie the symbolic and often sinister themes within her works. Or maybe it rests in the idea that there is beauty to be found in darker thoughts. As an artist, Dizon treads the line between the familiar and the unfamiliar in dream-like imagery that recalls narratives social, political, and deeply personal.
Growing up, Dizon was no stranger to surreal art. She was brought up in a household of artists. Her first art teacher was none other than her father, Jeff Dizon, known for his intricate expressionistic renditions of subject matter related to Philippine life, from the rural, to the religious. Dizon cites him as her primary influence among the local arts scene. From practicing painting under her father’s tutelage, she would eventually study Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Only three years after graduating, she was already showing her works in major exhibit spaces, including Art Fair Philippines and CCP for a retrospective group show for the late Alan Rivera. For the show, she recreated one of Rivera’s past installations, which she dedicated to her parents.
The most striking aspect of Dizon’s art is her very distinct sense of iconography. She uses her imagery almost like language, deftly putting together different visuals to create narratives that may or may not make complete sense to viewers— depending on how they are willing to translate or interpret them. Her work recalls the style of surrealist artists Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo, whom she counts as one of her major artistic influences. Dizon often paints figures in ambiguous settings, sometimes even painting simple plain backdrops. She then incorporates symbols, sometimes as unassuming as colorful sweets and candies, other times as gruesome as a dismembered head. The artist starts her artistic process with a definite idea in mind but keeps herself open to adding in more details to her canvases as each work calls for. Viewing the final product is almost like deciphering a dream; trying to understand what each element contributes to the whole narrative, or why they may even be there in the first place.
The end of February signals another milestone in Dizon’s career with the opening of her first solo show, “Safe Space,” under Kaida Contemporary, opening virtually on February 28 and onsite on March 2. The show will feature her paintings as well as an installation of sculptures, marking the first time the artist will be exhibiting sculptural works. “Safe Space” represents Dizon’s attempts to carve out her own safe space in today’s world, which has become an increasingly risky environment for both artists and women alike. For the installation, Dizon created her own dessert buffet of cakes, lollipops, and popsicles, all designed to look as delectable as the real thing. But as in her paintings, each sweet holds a darker secret – a knife, a razor blade – signifying perhaps the precarious nature of constructed safe spaces even in the most innocent of places.
Dizon sees in her art the opportunity to make a statement on behalf of those who cannot. She views art as a vital form of communication that can play a significant role during politically turbulent times. “I think that art which deviates from the norm and raises social awareness especially during times like these is very important, now more than ever, not only because it tells a story, but it also tells the truth… Art that informs people of the truth presents not just facts but empathy for the oppressed as well as a way to raise awareness in people, to spark some kind of revolutionary optimism in them.”
For however dark or even macabre they may appear, there is some solace to be found in the sincerity of Nika Dizon’s works. She chooses not to shy away from the disquieting thoughts that may be lurking in the mundane, from the plain and purest of objects, to expansive personal dreamscapes. And in putting this disturbing side on display, Dizon encourages viewers to do the same with their own thoughts – and perhaps in that, one truly can find comfort.
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