Living the Yaya Years

Paquit: “You know, it was a long time before Marie began to talk.”
Marie: “It was Esther who was my yaya, very quiet.”

We have found many ways of preserving images of the past, but nothing captures the nostalgia of one’s childhood more hauntingly than cyanotype. Wikipedia defines cyanotype as a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Its discovery in 1842 is attributed to Sir John Herschel, an English scientist and astronomer. Cyanotype looks very much like the blueprint that architects and building engineers use.


After 39 years in the United States, Angela Silva and her husband, Chris Juricich, returned to Negros from Berkeley, California. It was then that Angela embarked on a new career as a printmaker and a visual artist using cyanotype photography. “I combine my love of vintage Filipiniana and real photo postcards with printmaking and collage. My antiquarian sensibility layers rare photographs and studio portraits with maps and ephemera to denote a sense of time and place. In my work, I also explore identity and memory by combining found vernacular photographs with remembered stories,” says Angela. This includes ordinary, everyday photos and recollections from family members as well as her own.

Luckily for Angela, she comes with illustrious history. Her maternal lineage of the Javellana-Ledesma families provides abundant memorabilia, many of which have been tapped as subjects for Angela’s cyanotype projects. “Shadow Mothers” (Orange Project 2019, The Negros Museum 2020), pays tribute to the role of “yayas” or live-in baby sitters in the Negrense culture. These endeared women took care of children while the real mothers helped in the running of the hacienda or attended to social obligations. Angela shares, “I am interested in studying the mother-and-child pose as recorded in photos of biological mothers and attendant mothers…the stories of intimate history behind them—the mothering, the nurturing, and the subsequent separation between the women and the children they held with such pride and love.”

A larger cast of characters is had in Angela’s work “Juan and Nena 1926-1927”, where the artist chronicles the yearlong courtship of her grandparents, Juan Ledesma and Magdalena “Nena” Javellana. The final work, four volumes of postcard-size photo albums, track the travels of 10 cousins and friends onboard cruise ships to North America, South America, and Europe. Nena starts the voyage with two suitors and returns home engaged to Juan—a titanic love story on its own. But this masterpiece reaches beyond recounting a private family anecdote. It reflects a period in the existence of Negrenses that has defined the place and its people. And many times, stories like this cement a community’s pride in its cultural heritage. It is Angela’s duty to recapture those snippets of travel and courtship as authentically as possible.

That cyanotype as a form of alternative photography predates the film camera commands emotional connection. Angela produces the monochromatic blue image on archival quality paper to achieve a feeling of timelessness. And because it looks very much like a blueprint, it brings the art enthusiast to the very beginning of things, the starting point, the plot of a narrative about to unfold. Cyanotype, does indeed, romance the past to make it relevant once more.

Angela Silva currently works on new cyanotype projects, including one using old passports. View what she’s up to at IG@alegnaavlis and on Facebook: Angela Silva.

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