Anting Anting Collection

A Letter from the Artist

I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “wear your heart on a sleeve” and on love.

It stems from my year of big heartbreaks (2023). I am okay now, I tend to my tender spots still, but that year changed me. Maria Montejo shared with me many things but it was her who told me to keep my heart open and to remain vulnerable. So I followed the path that would help me understand what these meant. What I am about to share are reflections on the wisdom of a broken heart. I share these because I am witnessing us all tending to our own form of heartbreak. 

Back to the phrase. I used to have this silly image of what it must feel like to wear your heart on a sleeve.  A gentle free spirit wearing a flimsy t-shirt going around trying to connect to people doesn't wear shirts but their own version of armor built up by seasons of past hurt. Depending on who you are or where you are in life, I imagine you would resonate with either type, as I have.

In the process of mending a broken heart, I’ve moved away from this image. I feel now it undermines our capacity to heal and tap into the full spectrum of our human experience. This to me feels harmful.

Instead, I’m finding more similarity in wearing your heart on a sleeve to wearing an anting-anting vest. The ones worn by warriors of old times and new who face their opponents in battle. The sleeve and vest (which is really an undershirt) imply this flimsy cloth like quality and yet, both hold so much power. If wielded right, they can be used for protection and help you get what you desire. You yourself become powerful.

When warriors wear anting-anting, they are able to achieve incredible feats or become somewhat invincible. Do you not feel this when you are deeply in love also?

To wear your heart on your sleeve is to be so open with how you love, how you want to be loved, be seen and to connect to people you have chosen. I think then of the courage it takes to have to wear your heart on your sleeve. It must be the same courage of those with warrior spirit. The courage stems from a profound truth that what you are showing up for is worth exposing your vulnerability–one is your heart, the other your body. 

Do you know of the EDSA Revolution nuns? It is them that comes to mind where love and warriorship converge by both being vulnerable and courageous. They took it upon themselves to become the first line of defense against Marcos’ soldiers. The soldiers were trigger ready, ordered to kill anyone in defiance of him. The nuns came ready to lay their life but faced them with only their habits and rosaries for strength & protection. They did it because they loved their fellow Filipino people. This is the same for Land & Water Defenders worldwide, for Palestinians, for our Indigenous and Black kapwa. I think of this everytime we show up and choose life despite all the potential violence (personal & political) waiting for us. 

There is nothing more warrior like than to show up with your whole self, bare chest out, for something you wholeheartedly believe in. And there is nothing more loving than to show up with your whole self, bare chest out, for something you wholeheartedly believe in. 

When I say wearing your heart on your sleeve now I mean, to love unconditionally because that is what it takes to show up with your whole self. This is enduring type love. The kind that lasts a whole life time.  It is the love that heals and invites revolutions. I am rooted in this truth about this way of loving. I feel very much protected and powered by this knowing. It is what makes me unshakeable in how I show up in the world. It is what makes me keep trying.

Some of the lessons I am currently integrating is what inspired my collaboration with Pinay Collections. I created three anting-anting of loving protection to help with embodying these lessons (the wisdom of a broken heart). An anting-anting is made with or holds an intention. There are secret prayers (orasyon) and images made specifically to activate the power held in them. They are also made with divine intervention stemming from a harmonious human, nature and spirit relations and deep faith. From time to time, these anting-anting need recharging or clearing. 

The three anting-anting are made with the intention to love and to protect us against the external and internal forces designed to break or hurt us. Each of these embodies the wisdom/ lessons of a broken heart which are simplified into phrases. These phrases rooted in love act as prayers that we can invoke when we need the most guidance. They help us return to our centre. They are: Mahal Kita, Bumalik sa Sarili and Hinga at Pahinga. These prayers are embedded in the design in baybayin. Like secret orasyon, you don’t always see it. To be able to wield the power of these lessons, they must be worn, embodied. Wearing the anting-anting with these intentions will help you do that. The anting-anting amplifies the enduring love that already exists within each of us. That is the energy of these anting-anting. To recharge it requires faith. Faith that you will see that enduring love in yourself and in others. Wearing these anting-anting makes it easier to tap into this power with one another. I do not believe that someone who does not move in the world out of love and liberation will wear these. May you feel ease and reassured in knowing that this power is held and strenghtened not by a singular person or entity but by each other.

Ismatu Gwydolyn was very correct when she said, “Revolution is a faith-based practice” because it requires us to have faith in ourselves and in each other to hold and mend our broken hearts and live that freed reality we all speak about.

Althea Balmes, April 27, 2024

About the Artist

Althea Balmes (she/they/siya) is a multidisciplinary visual storyteller & arts-educator. I carry the Ilocano and Ilonggo lineages and stories of my ancestors. My artistic work focuses on the multiplicity of our experience of migration and diasporic personhood. I tap into the ancestral, the sacred and the intangible cultures of my people. I approach this work like visual ethnographies to connect to past, present and future existence and the Unseen worlds. My work is about deepening our human experience and being a witness to alternative worldviews and realities. For my people, my hope is that the work is healing.