Pacita Abad

1946, Basco, Philippines
2004, Singapore

Pacita Abad with her trapunto painting Ati-Atihan, 1983, wearing garments and jewelry collected on her travels; courtesy Pacita Abad Art Estate

Born in the Philippines to a family of politicians, Abad was greatly influenced by her family’s public service. In 1970, after leading a student demonstration against the Marcos regime, Abad left the Philippines. She intended to move to Madrid to finish a degree in law, but a stop in San Francisco to visit relatives became a long-term stay that would change the trajectory of her life.

1970s San Francisco was a hub of counterculture and social movements and, for Abad, a formative place of creative origin. Here, she met Asian and Latin American immigrants who had left their home countries for economic or sociopolitical reasons. Their stories initially inspired her to pursue studies in immigration law so that she could advocate for their causes. At the same time, Abad immersed herself in the local art scene and fell in love with art as a master’s student in history at Lone Mountain College (now part of the University of San Francisco) after working as the school’s Coordinator of Cultural Affairs. Though Abad received a scholarship to attend law school at UC Berkeley following her master’s degree, the artist chose to forgo her acceptance for travel and research. Art soon became the conduit and catalyst through which she advocated for marginalized people.

Abad became a prolific artist, and her choice of unstretched canvases as her primary medium gave her mobility as she traveled to and lived in over 60 countries with her husband, Jack Garrity, who worked as a development economist for international organizations. Her travels had an enormous impact on her practice as far as forms, materials, motivations, and visual traditions she’d learned about, from sewing and stitching techniques from Rabari women in Rajasthan to mirror embroidery in India.

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