Colorful handmade dolls produced by around 200 200 women behind bars in Iloilo City District Jail Female Dormitory go on display at Dang Maria's Bed & Breakfast in Barangay Bancao-Bancao, Puerto Princesa City. The exhibit will stay until August 26, 2019.

A variety of colorful, handmade dolls crafted by some 200 women behind bars as a “restorative process” are on exhibit in Dang Maria’s Bed & Breakfast in Bancao-Bancao.

Made by women committed at the Iloilo City District Jail Female Dormitory (ICDJFD) in collaboration with Fine Arts Major Organization (FAMO), they are called “Inday Dolls”.

The dolls started as part of Ma. Rosalie Zerrudo’s research paper titled, “Freedom in Prison, Prison in Freedom” in the University of San Agustin Iloilo (USAI) in Iloilo province.

Zerrudo is an Ilongga by heart, a multimedia artist who works in visual arts, film, and theater. She is also a cultural worker, a community-teaching artist, and an assistant professor at the College of Fine Arts and Humanities of USAI.

Guests check the dolls and other artworks created by female inmates of the Iloilo City District Jail Female Dormitory.

“It started as a research project, but at the same time, it’s a psycho-social intervention for these women who are actually on trial. Given that they are in a very crowded place, 700 percent congestion rate, I thought that this is a way where they can actually have mental space,” she said.

“Creative space is very important for women in this kind of situation, the pain of being away from your family,” Zerrudo added.

She said she saw the potentials of the Iloilo female inmates in expressing themselves when they create their own artworks.

She noticed that inmates have different archetypes on their artworks — some of them want to express their pain and some are just creating for fun. But what inspired her the most are those who are also creating because though they are inside the jail, they are their families’ breadwinners.

“They give everything to their children no matter what, they have jobs in prison just to send ‘baon’ to their children. Then I discovered that they are mothering behind bars too. What inspires me kasi most of them pala ay breadwinners. While inside, they still earn money to actually send their children to school,” she said.

Inmates welcomed the project

Zerrudo said that the inmates are voluntarily participating through signed consents stating they can withdraw anytime.

What is in their participation, she said, is really helping them experience the different disciplines of art and she found out that the most compelling is the visual artworks which are specifically the exhibit of Inday dolls.

After the workshop she conducted, she found out that women have varied talents which can result in the formation of different design teams.

Bayaning Inday curator Ma. Rosalie Zerrudo (third from left) with Palaweña women in the Inday Dolls art exhibit at Dang Maria’s Bed & Breakfast in Barangay Bancao-Bancao.

The members of the LGBTQ+ community inside the prison have also created their own specific contribution called “Toto Dolls” to represent the lesbian members. The children and sisters, on the other hand, who visit the inmates have created “Nene Dolls”.

The project was funded by the University of San Agustin Iloilo, a competitive grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and as the winner of the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative Seeds for the Future (YSEALI Seeds).

The research started in 2014 and the first official exhibit was in 2017.

She said there is no discrimination in the art forms created, but she set classifications selected and categorized by the women themselves.

She is hopeful that the project would make products for selling to sustain activities and to help the inmates earn and at the same time release their creativity.

Bars as creative space

Zerrudo was told by the jail warden that the women inmates shifted from chaotic to the creative. Less noise was heard as they started creating art pieces.

Some of the inmates shared that they found their purpose through the help of art and many discovered that they could make something through the effort of the art process.

“Na-inspire ako dahil nakita ko ‘yong potential na these women who think so small of themselves or are almost losing their hopes. When I was asking them what is their ultimate freedom, sabi nila they can still love, they still have that. Especially when they think, when they express,” she said.

Zerrudo said art is helping the inmates as it serves as a vehicle to transcend the pain into something resourceful. “A gentle weapon,” she said.

She said that in art, it is the “process” that is most important as it reflects the depth of emotions, the context, and the meaning of the art for the artist.

“Art is a process, kasi yong result, object lang yan. Process yong importante, kasi yon ang mas malalim, mas may meaning, mas may context. Kung paano nangyari ‘yan ay ‘yon ang pinaka-importante,” she said.

The “Bayaning Inday” started on August 12 and will end on August 26. During the period, it will highlight art talks, performances, film shows, and workshops that are open to the public.

It has reached other provinces in the Philippines and also other countries.

Zerrudo is encouraging Palaweños to witness the art exhibit, especially those who want to stand up for women.

She said visitors could bring home art pieces from the social enterprise as gifts for their friends, families, and relatives.

“I’d like them to see this art reach out to more people, especially those who want to stand up for women and support them. I like the inmates to experience mothering, but expressing their freedoms while in jail,” she said.