Nerisa del Carmen Guevara: In the eyes of an artist

Nerisa del Carmen Guevara. Photo by Kristela Danielle S. Boo/ THE FLAME

THE BEATING of the drums was the beginning of it all.

It was just another ordinary day when the busy streets of Malate transformed into a big stage for Nerisa del Carmen Guevara. As she placed down her teacher’s bag, she began to freely sway with the wind, her movements expressing all that she is. That defining moment changed her life completely.

Performing had become innate in her. It was her energy that transformed into passion enough to keep her alive. Art had become her life. “If I don’t do what I do, I don’t know if I can still call myself ‘Ms. G’. This is me. It’s more a part of me than my Instagram. This defines me more than anything else,” she says with a warm smile on her face, reminiscing her experiences.

Being influenced by artists like Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa and exposed in encounters with Grace Nono, Cynthia Alexander, Kidlat Tahimik and Rene Aquitania brought out the creative genius in her.  “What I love about the friends that I keep close to me, who are artists, is their endurance and persistence in the field. They inspire me to keep on, beyond weight and beyond age, to just do what I need to do without being shy or compromised,” she shares.

Rhyming words

Performance art was not Guevara’s first love. At an early age, she found herself playing with the words of the children’s song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” “I used to make different versions of the song. I think that was that start of the lyric sequence for me,” she explains. “I replaced words. I found every poem had to sound a particular way. I thought every poem had to rhyme.”

Growing up, her passion for poetry was further enriched. The Thomasian Writers Guild opened her a door of opportunity, developing and honing her skills as a poet. She then met the late Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, her then mentor and second mother, who encouraged her to pursue her craft. Despite being a biology student, it did not hinder Guevara to express her love for poetry.

Her dedication for the art was reinforced in the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB). When she is not attending her classes, she would sneak inside the St. Raymund de Peñafort Building and walk right past the guards to sit in one of the classes in AB. “The guard and I, we didn’t like each other,” she recalls. “The backdoor (formerly known as the cafeteria) is not only the shortcut but it is the best way to enter and kilala na ako noong mga cafeteria people.” Although pursuing a different program, she knew early on that she belongs to the captivating beauty of arts and expression.

Poetry became vital in her life. Every time she writes, she gives it her all, throwing herself to the art and coming up with her very own masterpiece. There is a certain kind of feeling that engages her to create more, as if a new world was welcoming her. “I love everything that had descriptions and I also aim for that in my own work, that kind of three-dimensional portal,” she says.  

Her dedication in writing her poems soon reaped its fruit. In 1995, she became the Thomasian Poet of the Year with a record-breaking grand slam of first, second and third places in the Gawad Ustetika, and received an honorable mention from the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for her poem Chime House.

She was also recognized for her book Reaching Destination: Poems and the Search for Home, taking home the Palanca award for Poetry in English and a Catholic Mass Media Award in 1999 and 2005, respectively.

Bagging these achievements helped her explore the depth of what she could still do in art, whatever medium it may be.

Gestures of art

“I have a short attention span that’s why I move through different art forms,” she says. Guevara turned to performance art what she can’t express in poetry.

In 2012, she started doing performances that focuses on a form called “elegy.” “It’s still poetry but its gestures,” she describes. The elegies she does are durational art with intensified emotions of mourning, grief and loss.

Guevara explains that performance art requires thorough planning—the image that the performance revolves around, the props to be used, and the time and space to create are all taken into consideration. The process of making a particular piece is both challenging and exciting, usually taking her a week to six months to produce one.

A staggering amount of time, effort and passion is devoted to her performances. When doing a performance art, she prepares her body and mind to carry an amount of physical endurance to attend to the piece because, for her, “You can’t leave the art until it’s finished; the art needs you more.”

Self-awareness plays a vital role in every art she makes. The events transpiring around her contribute to the pieces she produces. She shares that if extrajudicial killings are not happening, she would not be producing a lot of elegies.  

She believes that, as an artist, one should not close himself or herself from the happenings in the country; being an artist should be rooted in all the beauty and pain of these events.

The tragedies of her life, specifically the death of her partner from a gunshot, shaped her and brought out the fighter in her. “There is a part of me that refuses to die. I tell myself ‘I don’t want to die today. What do I do to not die today?’ I’ll do this. I want to do performances,” Guevara asserts.

Stirring passion

More than being an artist, she is as equally passionate about teaching. The associate professor from AB Department of Literature hopes to teach her students how to appreciate art and renew people’s perception about it.

“[W]hen you become the movers and shakers of this country, when your child comes to you and says, ‘Mommy, daddy gusto kong maging artist,’ hindi na [‘Walang kwenta ang maging artist’] ang sagot mo. ‘Yung sagot mo ay ‘Yes, anak, […] okay lang maging artist,’” she says, a message she always passes on to her students.

She believes that everything people do is service. “Ngayon, I serve as a professor, I serve as an artist,” she says. “It is not a selfish act but an […] act to give back visions to the world.” F

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