Lilianna Manahan: Playfully Animating Objects

Designer Lilianna Manahan's quirky and playful personality comes out in her art pieces which are equally whimsical

If walls could talk, as the saying goes, then we’d probably learn a lot more about ourselves and the people around us. And yet, whether or not walls can actually speak, the spaces around us really do speak volumes about our quirks and personalities. The mere choice of color or wallpaper immediately evokes a sense of character, a style, a mood. What more the choice of décor, furniture, and the many vestiges of ourselves that we adorn our spaces with?

Lit paper orbs

For designer Lilianna Manahan, her work has always been closely tied to her personality. Celestial paper orbs suspended from the ceiling, jagged geometric towers with hanging Sarimanok, a menagerie of brass-plated figurines, even life-size rhinoceroses woven from wicker—all these fanciful creations tell stories without ever uttering a single word.

A pair of Nogs, part of Manahan’s collection of hybrid tabletop creatures

A Fresh Perspective on Design

“Humorous, curious, valuable.” According to Manahan, these are three of the defining characteristics of her work and overall design sensibility. A graduate of the University of the Philippines in Industrial Design, she approaches furniture and home décor with a childlike splendor, showcasing a fresh perspective on contemporary design that sets her apart from her peers. “I come from a family of artists, so at an early age, I knew I would be in that field. It was just a matter of picking which discipline I wanted to be in,” she says.

A pair of Groinks, tabletop accents in Manahan’s hybrid creature collection

The young creative pursued further studies at Central Saint Martins in London before returning to the Philippines. She apprenticed under renowned Cebuano designer Kenneth Cobonpue, and has since shown her work at Paris Design Week–where she was the only representative from the Philippines–as well as annual editions of Manila FAME international trade show. She continues to be grateful for the opportunities she’s been given and the success she’s earned. “I think what gets me up in the morning is my relationship with God. I know that this career is part of a blessing that I’ve been given responsibility [for], and I would like to…make the most out of it,” says Manahan.

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Another source of constant inspiration is her family as well as the local artists and artisans she has worked with, such as fashion designer Lulu Tan-Gan as well as artists for home stores Triboa Bay Living and Maze. “I like how more people are starting to appreciate art and design,” Manahan relates. “I like how design studios are incorporating different disciplines of design under one group. This is exciting because it gives more room for the designers to explore and express themselves… In a few years, I hope that we are able to really showcase all the talent [of] our craftsmen.”

“My work philosophy is to be honest,” she confides. “I’ve found that the stories I’ve been telling through my work have a personal connection. They’re usually experiences I’ve had or things I admire and have redrawn with my own twist.” Her debut collection at Paris Design Week featured hybrid creatures such as the Groink, the Nog, and the Merchicken—emphasizing Manahan’s playful nature and striking originality. “Hopefully, by illustrating these stories through whatever medium I use, the viewer will be able to pick up a lesson or value from it that they can adopt into their own lives.”

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Installation inspired by the board game Snakes and Ladders

World-class Art

Manahan’s childlike approach to her art certainly influences her work. At the 2015 Paris Design Week, for instance, Manahan’s creations were all made of resin and brass. “I grew up around my grandmother’s collection of enamel figurines,” she says. “Just being around those pieces in the house has…ingrained [the figures] in my visual database.” When she participated in the 60th Manila FAME, one of Manahan’s masterpieces was a chair-and-table set inspired by the board game Snakes and Ladders. For the next year, she made a large woven rhino in the actual size of an actual baby African rhino, “simply because I had never had the opportunity to have a woven rhino made,” Manahan says.

Manara installation collaboration with artist Toym Imao

However, not all Manahan’s creations are whimsical. For the Ayala Foundation in May, she collaborated with visual artist Toym Imao to come up the Manara installation: an installation about handling differences and conflict. “The goal was to create awareness and appreciation for the Muslim Mindanao culture through an interactive art installation,” Manahan says. “The forms in the installation took reference from the minarets found around a mosque–tall towers that are used to announce the times for prayer…So the whole space is meant to create a safe place for people to discuss these questions, enjoy the scenery, and interact with the minarets.”

Lilianna Manahan’s pieces are at times whimsical and playful, sometimes thought-provoking and serious. But consistently, they are world-class.

All photos courtesy of Lilianna Manahan