Grace Villamil’s intimate mementos of her travels to the Philippines in ‘Pasalubong’

‘Mother & Child’

‘Mother & Child’

By Amanda Schmitt

“Pasalubong” is an intimate photo book by Grace Villamil, including images and drawings created during her first experiences in the Philippines.

The book is both a reflection and a meditation on her personal relationship with the country. Pasalubong is a Tagalog word (the national language of the Philippines) for the gift you bring back to family and friends from a distant place; a special token signifying the act of meeting again. Pasalubong is the word to represent the culminating photo series of the photographer’s personal uncovering of the Philippines.

The artist’s parents, both Filipino, emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1970’s to build a better life for themselves, their children as well as escape the Marcos regime. Villamil was raised as an American” child and little was mentioned of her Filipino heritage except for the cuisine and cultural holidays.

Inspired by a childhood relic, an oil painting of rice farmers in shallow water, Villamil went to her home country for the first time at age 21, and has traveled there every year for almost a decade packing few belongings of which two were most important: a twin lens Yashica camera and a Hasselblad.

Throughout her travels, Villamil would take 16-hour bus rides deep into the country, stopping in both rural and urban areas along the way. Her approach is based on patience and grace, creating compositions documenting daily events and objects filled with overwhelming light and saturated with rich emotion and curiosity. Images of soft and mysterious light coming through a curtain, trendy pimped-out jeepneys, unoccupied furniture and forgotten monuments of deteriorating Spanish and Chinese influences, children playing and rice paddies, reflections and windows, intimate portraits and succulent native flora: these are among the images that Villamil brings back from the Philippines into this book.

Special edition copies of 'Pasalubong' available in banana leaf cover.

Special edition copies of ‘Pasalubong’ available in banana leaf cover.

Villamil has also collaborated with Palestinian artist Samia Halaby to produce a unique special edition book cover, a replica of banana leaf paper. This special package is meant to remind those receiving the book of the peaceful and gratuitous gesture innate to culture; a giving and receiving of one’s region, or on a larger scale, of one’s country. The design for the cover is inspired by an original Halaby painting, “Green Banana,” 1978.

If you ever have the chance to travel with artist, and photographer, Grace Villamil, you would have the privilege to see the artifacts that she collects to give as gifts, as mementos. They are not so much souvenirs, in the sense of remembering a time and place, but objects that have life and spirit that travel to a new place.

Villamil has a special talent for discerning value in object, whether it’s a pastry snack, a handmade craft, or a rock.

Grace Villamil (b. La Mirada, CA) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She attended CSUF in California and the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in New York. Her work is featured as album artwork for Prefuse 73 and Tyondai Braxton. She has created various installations, short films and worked with editorial publications.

LAAND, Grace Villamil’s sound & live video manipulation project will debut this May 2013 in New York. “Pasalubong” is self-published and is available for order at: Contact Grace Villamil at,

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