We had the good fortune of connecting with April Werle and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi April, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in Helena, Montana, within a small, tight-knit, Pinay community (Filipino).
My life growing up here was divided by two very different cultures:
My home life, and social life mainly revolved around our community. In fact, the community of Pinays were the ones that raised my little sister and I. Our single mom and our aunties, who were also mostly single moms, are who raised all of us kids.
And then there was my school life, and eventually my work life, that was a much different culture. I learned how to code switch between them.
Because I grew up in such a homogenous town, my ma prepared us for discrimination by teaching us to really love our culture. By deeply loving it, we wouldn’t feel shame when other kids or adults would say or do something that was questionable. Our love for our culture became our shield, keeping our minds and hearts safe.
However, there was a period of my life that I put down that shield. There was a period of my young adult life, where I had let in the wrong people that made me question my culture and self love.
It took years to remember that there was my shield somewhere, collecting dust. And when I finally remembered it, and picked it up, it felt like being reunited with an old friend.
My old friend, that wooden shield, has transformed now. It’s become the wooden panels of my artwork.
I make art that celebrates my heritage and love for my culture, I make art for my community. Because I know what it’s like to be lost, without that shield, and now I make shields for others.
They are the shields you put up on your wall, to decorate your home, and celebrate where you come from. They are reminders to celebrate the love for our Filipino culture, and to celebrate ourselves.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I think I should address the elephant in the room first. The hands.
People always ask my why hands, because they are present in all of my work for the last 3 years.
But actually they have a history longer than that.
I can’t remember the first time I started drawing hands. I was probably in elementary school, and I gravitated towards them because of their expression. So much about how we feel can be expressed just with our hands.
My dad sent me a picture of a pastel drawing I made in 4th grade and gave to him. Somehow about 15 years later, I had recreated that exact same drawing in the style that I work in now. Hand, mountains, clouds, and thunderbolt.
It was completely subconscious, and I believed that these forms in my work had naturally evolved independently. But after seeing that drawing I made such a long time ago, it made me question if we ever really change that much.
I believe that we revolve around central ideas, similarly to the way we revolve around the sun. We are constantly evolving, but eventually our evolution brings us back to where we started.
Anyways, the hands have been a constant in my work. But their settings have evolved, from landscapes with castles, clouds, and thunderbolts, now to striped waves, banana trees, and Bisayan tribal patterns.
As the daughter of an immigrant woman, I am always exploring the intersections of identity, place and culture. The hands say “we are here,” and tell stories rooted in the Filipino diaspora.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Hmmm that’s a tough one because I’ve been such a home body since Covid started.
I am such a lover of coffee, that I would start our day off at Big Creek which is just down the street from our house.
Then maybe take our coffee to go and see the current shows at the Missoula Art Museum.
Whenever I picture my perfect day, its morning all day.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I always promised my ma that I would tell her story.
This was when I was a little girl, and I wanted to be a writer.
Today, I am a painter. And I visually tell her story, which is really our story – part of the collection of stories that tell who we are as the Filipino diaspora.
Mural Photos – Mike Malament Window Shot – Sarah Elizabeth