‘To show that Filipinos deserve better’: Solenn Heussaff explains photo with urban poor as backdrop

March 4, 2021 - 12:23 PM
Solenn Heussaff with painting
Solenn Heussaff painting this photo uploaded on her Instagram on Feb. 21, 2021 (left) and sitting with her painting as a backdrop as taken by Charisma Lico-Santos and posted on Feb. 26, 2021 (right).

Celebrity artist Solenn Heussaff said that she wanted to show in her art that “Filipinos deserve better” after being criticized for supposedly using “poverty porn” to promote her upcoming solo art exhibit.

The 35-year-old Kapuso actress previously shared a picture of her sitting in front of her acrylic painting with her self-designed rug under a chair. It was set up with an urban poor community as backdrop.

“Entitled KUNDIMAN, this exhibit expresses my love, appreciation and hope for our country and our people,” she said in her caption.

Heussaff initially posted it on her social media accounts but she later took it down after earning backlash from the local online community.

Some social media users were able to save it.

Heussaff was promoting her third solo art exhibit that will open on March 26. Some of her art will be on display at the Modeka Art Gallery in Makati from March 26 to April 24.

Her exhibit will feature her acrylic paintings and rug designs that she has worked on for three years.

However, Heussaff’s promotional picture with an impoverished community as backdrop drew criticisms as some perceived it to be a display of “poverty porn.”

“Solenn’s one of the kindest artista I met and *whispers* got the chance to work with… and as much as I want to say na she meant well, this ain’t it eh. Using poverty as your aesthetic is just…. insensitive,” a Twitter user wrote.

“Solenn’s Poverty Porn. Could’ve worked better if she tried simple clips of her paintings happening in real life and the story of the people behind it… instead of just having them as a background,” another online user said.

“Okay sabihin na nating pinapakita niya ‘yung kalagayan ng mga mahihirap satin. And then? Eh kung ang purpose naman niya ay para i-display sa mga mamahaling gallery, at ibenta para may pang donate sa mga charity, hindi ba poverty porn pa rin ‘yon?” a different Filipino tweeted.

A CNN article describes poverty porn as a “tactic used by nonprofits and charity organizations to gain empathy and contributions from donors by showing exploitative imagery of people living in destitute conditions.”

“It leaves many of us feeling uncomfortable, disconnected and guilty—conflicted between turning a blind eye and reposting these pictures in hopes that sharing images of human suffering will enlighten others about poverty,” it added.

Heussaff in a Facebook post on Thursday shared that she has been “thinking a lot about the comments” about her photo and explained that she wanted “to show the reality of Filipinos.”

“This is the heart and inspiration of all my paintings, both old and new. I did not want to romanticize the poverty of the everyday Pinoy or the resiliency that we naturally have. I really hoped to honor our people by being truthful about the kind of life a lot of Filipinos live today and to show that Filipinos deserve better,” she said.

Heussaff added that she wanted to shoot her photo “in a typical street” or in “streets full of life” since her paintings are about “the people we see.”

“Not the rich or the poor but people for who they are. Humanity. The choice of painting was to show the environmental side. The abundance and balance of what life was, but also growth and hope. Though yes, art is subjective, and your thoughts made me more sensitive to different perspectives on my art and this really was a learning experience for me,” the artist said.

She also apologized to those who were “hurt” by her post and said that it wasn’t her intention “to hurt or offend anyone.”

“Thank you for letting this be an eye-opener for me as well. And to those that I have offended, I am sorry,” Heussaff continued.