Arts & Culture
February 14, 2024
8 minute read time

Goldie Poblador radicalizes beauty through the art of glass flameworking

Zea Asis
Photos by
Illustrations by

"Who else will tell your story from your perspective as a Filipino woman?” Goldie Poblador said over a brief online conversation with us when we asked her about the role of heritage and history in one’s creative work. At the time of our conversation, it was 9 P.M. in New York where she currently resides and is developing her art practice in glass flameworking. She is part of the greater diaspora, a Filipina on foreign soil contending with larger questions on identity and femininity. “It’s easy to get caught in the rat race here, but it helps to remember that connection to nature, stories, and ancient history,” she added.

In 2021, she finished her most recent solo exhibition at Below Grand Gallery titled Kadena - Chains of Love, a series of intricate glass sculptures that reinterpreted the Cadena de Amor, a perennial vine that is native to the Philippines and recontextualized within the lens of feminism, ecology, and the immigrant experience. Some of the pieces in the collection hung from literal chains suspended from the gallery roof; the glass sculptures themselves blurred the boundaries between plant and female anatomy. She is also the artist behind the much-known Barbae Collection, handmade glassware—“talismans grounded in feminine energy”—named after feminist figures in the arts and whose unique shape was inspired by the female form.

Photo of some pieces from the Barbae Collection. Source: artist’s website.

“There comes a point when you have to realize that maybe your point of view is valid. I had to contend with that… I felt that I was living in other people’s expectations of what kind of work I should be making, and what kind of mediums I should be using,” Poblador added. As a fine arts student at the University of the Philippines Manila back in 2009, glass flameworking was new territory for her. It went beyond traditional forms of art learned in an academic environment where usually the materials contended with were paint, wood, and resin. She fell in love instantly.

A close-up of one of the pieces from Kadena - Chains of Love. Source: artist’s website.

The arduous dance

You can say that perhaps Poblador is drawn to the challenge, the unconventional, even taboo. Glass flameworking is an industry often defined as both “arduous” and “dirty”— “man’s work” if you will. She mentioned how a trip she made to Murano, Italy—where glassmaking has been a known trade since the late 1200s—opened her eyes to an industry that has historically excluded women, its trade secrets passed from father to son. But that didn’t discourage her. In fact, such a history of exclusion drew her closer to the form. About the process, Poblador said, “[It’s] alchemical, my raw materials start as a tube. It's solid form. As you work with it, you can blow it into something so thin. It’s a material that can be delicate but also so strong. You can mold it to do lots of things. I was blown away by the process. And there is only a short amount of time to get your form. There’s something exciting about that.”

Despite its history, she asserted that the form is feminine precisely because of its fluidity. She sees it as a dance, “The choreography of the process matters. It’s also improvisational in the sense that you have a design and it might not always come out that way.” For any glass flameworking artist like her, the process begins the same way. But as rods of glass are introduced to the flame, there begins the unique intervention of the hand in transforming the raw material into a harmonious medley of components, influenced by heat, gravity, and the artist herself who visualizes and orchestrates the whole affair. It’s an intricate dance with the blowtorch flame despite the threat of first, second, maybe even third-degree burns. And in the hands of an experienced artisan, it is done with elegance and prowess.

It may seem straightforward, but little things can affect the process disastrously. The timing and temperature may not be optimal, for one, breaking the glass mid-torch. If you’re not nimble enough, the precise and careful repetition may prove too demanding. The delicate dance between the blowtorch and the hand is the form’s meticulous artistry.

On beauty and mythology

In her exhibit for 601Artspace entitled Fertility Flowers (2021), Poblador created an interactive installation that made use of glass, wood, and fragrance, dreamily depicted through film in collaboration with several artists. The exhibition notes by Danni Shenn articulates her engagement with these mythologies in order to “unmask[s] these narratives around both flowers and their uses, exposing entangled ecologies of colonialism, patriarchy, and the social oppression of women as child-bearers.”

Artist portrait and film still from Fertility Flowers. Source: artist’s website.

Through the work, she explored the origins and mythologies behind indigenous Philippine flowers such as the Dama de Noche and Peacock to decolonize and deconstruct feminine tropes. In the legend of the Dama de Noche or the night-blooming jasmine, Datu Makisig’s wife, Dama, is unable to produce an heir and so is turned into a bush of star-like, white flowers while the Peacock flower was used by enslaved Black women in the Greater Caribbean as an abortifacient to prevent them from bearing children into slavery. “My work tries to live in this idealized universe that sometimes looks at what happens in real life and reimagines what a strong woman could be,” she shared.

Photo of Camia (Her Hands). Source: artist’s website.

Over the years, Poblador has created a delicate glass repertoire out of retelling indigenous myths. “It puts me in this space where I can imagine this world I'm creating and at the same time reconnecting with who I am,” she explained. For Camia (Her Hands) (2018), a sculpture made of lampworked glass and live Camia flowers, Poblador writes, “I reimagine the myths through a renewed feminine gaze, ripe with sensuality and femininity,” while describing her sculptures as depicting women in poses that “claim erotic agency instead of remorse.”

In another work entitled The Myth of the Ylang-ylang (2015), she used glass to depict the story of a girl named Ylang-ylang who had sworn to chastity, only to disappear into a flower after a suitor tries to touch her. In a way, her work is composed of disappearing women who materialize and become liberated as glass beings, born and baptized by blowtorch fire. For her, “It’s creating a universe where the women can live freely, exist, and be there in their power.”

Photo of The Myth of Ylang-ylang. Source: artist’s website.

The art and the artist

To be an artist is one matter, but to be a woman in a male-dominated industry makes it doubly difficult to focus on the demands that the work requires. Not only do you wrestle with the challenges intrinsic to the art form but there are institutional challenges and expectations that need to be overcome. “In my early 20s, I feel like women artists were expected to make a certain kind of work. There were a lot of expectations, let’s just say that. And I never really felt like I could live up to that so I just stopped one day. I just stopped caring because it’s so hard… I just got sick of living up to people’s molds,” Poblador told us. After more than a decade of art-making, she hopes that “at least my art makes people think. Or that it stands for something, that it stands for what I’m authentically feeling or who I am at that moment.”

When asked about the role of the artist and the value of aesthetic experience in contemporary times, she said, “I feel like the artist’s job is to have their skill own up to what’s in their head. And that is the artist’s job. I know what I want to say in a way, and I know who I am in a way, but then my skill is what I need to improve on so that the message can be clearer and so that people can enter the work in such an immediate way. Like when you see a masterpiece, you don’t even think twice. You know what it’s about. You stand in awe of it and you take time to take in everything and absorb the details of the work. That’s because the artist did their job.”

Personal standards set by artists for themselves can be such a tall order but it is precisely what keeps Poblador engaged with her work. Her philosophy is utilitarian: it is to attempt to create work that is better than the last. She told us, “What inspires me is improving the current sculptures that I have.” But art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor can motivation and inspiration be summoned solely from pure will. “Outside of that, everything that’s happening in the world inspires me. World events inspire me. Things happening in everyday life inspire me, and I try to pay attention to that.”