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Aze Ong’s crocheted art is an experience for the senses

A young visitor inspects Aze Ong's crochet work.
A musical racket of drums, bells, excited chatter, and children’s laughter greeted guests last Saturday as they entered the Museo Pambata's Global Village Room, where Aze Ong’s gigantic crocheted installations hung across the ceiling and down all the way to the floor.

“Come play!” was the greeting Aze extended to the visitors. They came to see her exhibit, "My Soul’s Light," the museum’s highlight for Women’s History Month. Clad in a part-mermaid tail, part-granny sweater dress, Aze rushed around while her guests explored her colorful interactive creations.

In a corner, a little girl crawled under what appeared to be a gigantic bell jar or upside-down tulip. Nearby, a group of children and adults alike painted a mural with insects, patterns and bright nature-inspired motifs while at the opposite end of the room a group of friends stood taking pictures of themselves in comically huge crocheted hats and dramatic kimono-inspired crocheted robes.     

A sensorial experience

'My Soul's Light' is currently on display at Museo Pambata.
"What I see here is what we only dream about, but it's right here on top of us... This is what children should be exposed to. Something that's different, something that they can touch, and they can smell and they can go inside... they can twist... they can pinch," said Museo Pambata president and CEO Nina Lim-Yuson, gesturing towards the gigantic crocheted art.

"That's important for children because children learn best when they are excited about something."  

A large-scale “Crib Rattler” hung on one side of the room, beckoning to guests with its interactive tendrils that made squeaking sounds when squeezed.

On the other side of the room, Aze’s famous 62-foot-long piece of colorful radial patterns decorated the ceiling. In the center of the room, what might have been a tree or oversized flower stood tall at 8 x 20 x 20 feet.

"Itong malaking 'to,” said Aze, gesturing toward the piece in the center, “actually hindi ko alam kung flower siya or tree... Actually 'yun 'yung gusto ko sa work ko, na naiinterpret siya nang iba-ibang way."

Even she could not say for sure what some of her pieces are meant to be. Her creative process, as it always has been, is very spontaneous and has very much to do with the mood she is in.

"Yung ideas, parang nababaliw ako. Kung pwede lang na yung isang idea na naisip mo, lumabas na agad eh, hindi na kailangan ng time. Pero ang hirap kasi... icro-crochet mo pa siya. So sa isang day, pumapasok sa isip ko siguro mga sampung ideas agad or minsan umaabot ng 20, 30...'di ko alam kung paano ko siya ipapakita, hindi ko alam kung paano ko siya gagawin lahat. Pati ako nara-rattle yung sarili ko so para kumalma ako, ginagawa ko na lang siya spontaneously. So kung ano yung ideas na naiiisip ko parang sumasama-sama na lang siya sa isa kaya makikita mo, wala siyang pattern kasi nagju-jump siya," she explained.

"Bawat idea na yun, nagmumula siya sa karanasan ko... yung naiisip ko na noong bata ako... both good and bad experiences. Pero, 'yun ako eh... 'yung mga gawa ko... buhay ko 'yun."    

Vibrant and expressive, Aze’s works include whimsical Mad Hatter hats, a person-sized creation that could serve as a lampshade, and a device that looks part-elephant, trunk part two-way gramophone speaker. Each work has been created without a pattern, without counting stitches, and without planning before production, and yet each time they turn out impeccably well-crafted.

Technical difficulties

Although she is undeniably a master of her craft, Aze confessed that she does encounter some difficulties in the creation of her works.
On her largest work to date she said, "Ang intention ko talaga is 8x40x60 feet. Hindi siya umabot sa gusto kong size so I hope na pagkatapos ng exhibit na ito malakihan ko pa siya kasi gusto ko magawa...yung challenge ko sa sarili ko. Kung kaya, why not do it?"

Assuming she spent nine hours a day to work, without taking any days to rest, the piece would have taken about a month to complete.

"Pero dahil malaki na yung hook na ginagamit ko, sobrang taba na niya tapos ang hirap na iikot, kailangan may pahinga ako ng isang araw... so one day, gawa siya. The next day, pahinga—pero yung pahinga ko, gumagawa ako ng maliliit," she explained.

Indeed it seems like Aze never stops creating. The energy in her work is reflected in the way she wears her own creations, even performing rhythmic, emotionally charged dances in them.

Something to fight for

Ong models one of her creations.
"Ano ba yung liwanag ng kaluluwa ko? Yung liwanag ng kaluluwa ko, narealize ko na bata palang pala ako, alam ko na yung gusto kong gawin. Kasi pag bata pa lang ako sobrang nahuhumaling na ako sa crochet eh,” she mused.

Her journey to where she is now, though, was not without hardship.

“It took me 33 years to finally fight for my passion,” she said, “Kasi, sino ba namang makakaisip na sa crochet kaya mong gawin to? Kaya mong papuntahin ang mga tao at i-eenjoy nila yung ganitong klaseng artwork... Mahirap ang pinagdaanan."

Aze hopes to inspire others to pick up crochet needles as well—or do whatever their passion is.

"I encourage people to crochet, and sana mainspire yung mga tao to follow their passion and fight for it. Kasi ako, it took me a lot of time na marealize ko na pwede ko pala siyang ipaglaban. So if you have the passion... ang importante tatagal ka dun sa ginagawa mo… importanteng masaya ka. May nakukuha kang self-fulfilment. Without that, I think hindi ka tatagal. So fight for your passion."    

Naturally, Aze’s passion and persistence show best through her work.

“I think Aze crochets when she’s sleeping!” said Lim-Yuson, “[You] should try and come and see Aze Ong, because she's one of a kind." — BM, GMA News

“My Soul’s Light” will be on display at Museo Pambata's Changing Exhibit Area of the Children in the Global Village until March 22.