I said what turned out to be my last goodbye to Norma Liongoren last year before she left for Washington DC to manage our HABI: The Philippine Textile Council Exhibit/Sale to celebrate Philippine Independence Day. It was at the request of the Philippine Embassy and was a successful presentation to both Americans and Filipinos in the US of our unique, varied and colorful indigenous fabrics.
I could say the same for Norma, a unique, colorful and varied character of Philippine art and culture. She managed the Liongoren Gallery in Quezon City, discovering and nurturing many young artists that have since turned into respected names in the Philippine art scene. Her own husband, Alfredo Liongoren, is an artist, one son is a photographer.
She was an enthusiast of Philippine native fabrics, particularly from Mindanao, and was an expert on malongs, the tubular garment of many colors and many uses. The Washington DC exhibit was such a success that it was extended and credit goes to Norma for it.
Originally from Abra, Norma Carmelita Crisologo Liongoren traveled the Philippines. For a time, she lived in Davao and was very active in the art community of that city, knowing many Davao artists and participating in the cultural activity of the city.
She kept returning to Abra where she had relatives and weavers of long acquaintance whom she constantly tried to help by introducing their works to those who fancied indigenous weaving. Her objective was to get traditional weavers more exposure, a stable market and a reasonable income. She would constantly mention that despite their craft, artistry and handiwork, they were still not compensated enough to rise from poverty levels. Her mission was to show the world their worth.
Her advocacy led her to join HABI: The Philippine Textile Council where she contributed much in ideas, connectivity with other cultural groups and enthusiasm with hard work.
She would dress in Filipiniana and become an icon of our market fairs. She could elucidate native fashions and demonstrate how to wear them optimally. She could explain their intricacies and the reasons for them. Her energy would capture the interest and contribution of others in the art world and for native textiles. She was a compelling personality as well as an unflagging cultural worker whose circle of friends and admirers was ever expanding, making her an effective cultural ambassador.
One of her last creative efforts was an exhibit called Walong Filipina where she featured a number of weavers, fashion designers and artists revolving on indigenous weaving. She first exhibited it at the Liongoren Gallery, then our market fair last year. She even managed to bring it in video form to the Washington DC event where it got a lot of admiring attention.
It seemed that Norma Liongoren was to go on forever with her enthusiasm, collaboration, and multiple ideas. But it was not to be as Fate would have it. Shortly after her US visit, she came home to find that the pains in her stomach she had brushed aside for too long were an advanced stage of cancer.
Plans to visit her would invariably be cancelled because of hospital admissions and tests. We expected her back. She was only 69 but has left a legacy that counts for more years than that.