Arts & Culture

Without Rose Tinted Glasses

Goldie Poblador’s work reflects an ecofeminist and immigrant narrative

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In some of the world’s largest art districts, creative souls from different backgrounds are engulfed in a competitive atmosphere. To cast a wider net of opportunity and community, artists must sometimes leave home to pursue their craft. Glassworker Goldie Poblador finds herself in New York City’s tight spaces and soaring studio rent prices. Despite having left the Philippines six years ago, she continues to communicate the place, its unique culture, and her fresh perspectives on it while out West. 

Goldie has never been one to claim singular ownership over an art form or an idea, she introduces traditions and tells stories through glassware. She credits the evolution of her practice to the individuals she befriends along the way. Embracing collaboration, she utilizes mixed media from scents and live performance to natural dye, elevating the experiences surrounding her sculptures and vessels. Diversity and equality underpin the narratives in her work, forcing audiences to reimagine a different world from the one they leave behind when they step into a show or take home a piece by Goldie.

Onward with glass

The artist’s journey begins in the Philippines. A curious Goldie first learned the technique from Aniceto de Castro, who specialised in making lab chemistry sets. He helped her put together a small flameworking set-up in the garage of her childhood home. “It was such a great time, I’d have coffee in the morning then get to work. I could even work late into the night,” she says fondly reminiscing.

Goldie Poblador at Ancieto de Castro’s studio

Goldie shifted to Studio Arts in college, veering away from an art course that had a future in advertising. The choice to work with glass instead of a medium like paint worried her parents at the time. Owed to its fragility, glass wasn’t popular with collectors so she was advised to revert to a more conventional medium that would perhaps sell better. Goldie eventually received aid to study in Murano, Italy, the island renowned for glassmaking traditions. She migrated to the United States shortly after learning that the Studio Glass movement was thriving there. 

Goldie’s experiences as a woman and an immigrant in a foreign place fuel the emotions and concepts present in her work. Her pieces evoke a fragility and a strength embodied throughout the undoubtedly intense flameworking process, wherein the artist uses a torch to melt glass and manipulate its shape while in its molten state. “The feeling of being able to make something with your hands that you weren’t able to achieve last week, is a priceless feeling I will continue to chase.” 

The making of Heart of Glass, an ink bottle collaboration with natural colour material artist Julia Norton
Photo courtesy of Julia Norton

Flameworkers like Goldie have an array of colours at their disposal today because of the pipe-making industry’s coloured pyrex. “[They] continue to manufacture new and vibrant colours. It’s a whole art form on its own, and our industry is lucky to have passionate individuals that keep this ancient art form alive. We can now make glow in the dark tubing as well as glitter tubing that looks as though there’s an entire universe within a piece of glass.” 

“Glass is a magical material. It’s literally like turning liquid to solid in your hands. The alchemical nature of glass transcends just its physical properties. I believe in the transformation of energy.”

Other in the big apple

For artists who are a long way from home, one of the biggest challenges is competing with artists that have more financial stability. “As an immigrant, you already know you have to work harder to achieve the same things natural citizens get,” Goldie shares. She has had to support herself with multiple day jobs, from working in retail to becoming an art assistant and accepting freelance design projects. She considered working at museums part-time but the industry proved hostile with its racially biased hiring practices. 

“Being a Filipino in New York affects me in every imaginable way as a person and as an artist.”

Goldie has faced difficulties since the first day she arrived. “I can’t help but blame the structural racism inherent in the art industry. The glass world is not immune to it either,” she explains.

Inspired by women who managed their own businesses, Goldie couldn’t help but want the same for herself. The system of inequity and prejudice that surrounded her for five years pushed her to start her own business and produce The Barbae Collection, shot glasses in the shape of female reproductive organs. The ‘Babae’ exhibit was born after hearing the news of a threat to shoot Filipino women rebels in the vagina. “I wanted to address this blatant display of misogyny by recreating this brutal image,” she says as the collection symbolises feminine sensuality and empowerment. 

Barbae Glass featuring colours named after pioneering women writers of speculative fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia E. Butler

Goldie envisioned the forms she wanted to create for the shot glasses, requiring that she hone her capabilities to match the vision as opposed to improvisation. She made the first iterations of the glasses in 2017. It took her three years to get small senses of owning the techniques to finally be able to experiment with other colours. On a good day, it can take her nearly 30 minutes to create a single piece.

Stolen from the East

During the experimental stages, ‘Babae’ was showcased in various locations in New York. Sake and tequila rose were served inside the female reproductive vessels. Goldie and Tess Liebman of Scent Plates shared an affinity for flowers and their histories, particularly how certain plants, fragrances, and flavours were being appropriated in their industry. They noticed similarities between immigrant women and the scents and flavours that were being exchanged and viewed in a negative light. This became the springboard for the scent and taste experiences they crafted to surround the glasses.

Two separate rooms featured two distinct scents that were dispersed through scented fog during the exhibit. Each drink’s flavour would be altered relative to where the viewer stood and to the scent that wafted in the area.

The interactive ‘Babae’ exhibition in New York

The first scent was a derivative of the sweet and rich Ylang-ylang flower, native to the Philippines and parts of South Asia. Goldie chose this as a nod to her roots and her existence as a Filipina immigrant. “The flower itself has been patented by numerous Western companies despite its tropical origin, yet no rights have been given to the farmers that first propagated this flower,” she explains. 

The second scent was Lapsang souchong, a smokey and woody tea from China. The tea was created during the Qing era when armies and migration interrupted the annual drying of tea leaves in the mountains. Eager to satisfy demands, tea farmers sped up the process by drying leaves over fires made from local pines. According to some sources, this may have been the first black tea in history. Goldie uses the tea leaves as a metaphor for immigrant life. She explains, “[this is] change occurring out of necessity and an appropriation or transplanting of the original seed or plant throughout the globe.” 

‘Babae’ at The Curator, Manila, Philippines

Audiences react with a mix of awe and scandal. “The imagery I use in my sculptures are very sensual,” she describes the vulvas. The artist continues to experiment with relational aesthetics to create multi-sensory experiences that spark conversations beyond what the glasses communicate visually.

“The scent directs the viewer towards the deeper narrative behind the piece, and I like to think that people leave knowing a little bit more about my culture.”

Parallels to earth 

Nature is a recurring theme in Goldie’s work, even preferring to live near a park or a garden. Whenever this wasn’t possible in the city, she applied to residences that would allow her to dwell in nature. She conducts research online and in the library; her favorite type of research being actual expeditions in nature guided by locals who foster intimate connections to the plants that surround them daily.

Sketches from Goldie’s latest project Fertility Flowers
Goldie during her creative residency at Hambidge Center, Georgia
Flower research conducted in the island of Puerto Galera, Philippines

Goldie’s body of work is eco-feminist in that she examines the relationships between the earth and women, as well as the oppression both are subjected to. Flowers are metaphors for women who have been colonized, commodified, and fetishized for being exotic. Currently she explores the myths behind Filipino flowers. “This has everything to do with growing up in the Philippines where you’re basically at the mercy of nature,” she says, referencing prior work as a reaction to one of the country’s most destructive typhoons.

“When I create [the Barbae glasses], I think a lot about the female gaze and the Western male gaze. Through my work I believe I am creating a new identity for myself.”

The artist traces the beginning of working with these themes to her own awareness of being viewed as an other. When she first arrived in the US, she had no idea she was a minority or would be treated as such. She expresses personal views and collective experiences in glass pieces that are molded from the fire, transforming her creative outlet to social commentary and eventually discourse among audiences that witness her work.

“I started to create these utopian worlds and experiences that highlighted the immigrant woman in a way that made her the most precious thing in the space.” 

Peacock flower sculptures in progress
Photo courtesy of Anna Frumenti 
A still from the Fertility Flowers film

In her latest project, Fertility Flowers, Goldie teams up with Filipino film director and writer Apa Agbayani. This is made possible with a grant from the Foundation of Contemporary Art as part of ‘Collaborative Survival’ a group exhibition curated by Danni Shen.

Fertility Flowers opens June 16 at the 601Artspace in the Lower East Side in New York.

To view Goldie Poblador’s work visit her website and shop.

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