Elisa (Siau Hua) Y. Tan (January 8, 1937–January 7, 2022) was a Filipino-Chinese conceptual artist who was born in a small village in Southern China and moved to Manila when she was only a year old. She grew up and was schooled in Manila and went to the University of the Philippines Diliman to earn a BA in Fine Arts in1963. She left for the US in 1964 for artist residencies in New York and Ohio including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship from 1970 to 1974. She moved to Europe shortly after and started another string of residences beginning with one from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. She settled in Paris for the next two years, where her art career, now spanning five decades, floated in between obscurity and recognition, never completely breaking through, despite prestigious residencies, public acquisitions, and solo exhibits. Her early efforts as a painter of large-scale canvases garnered significant recognition in the middle to late ‘70s in New York, but it was not until she moved to Paris in the ‘70s that her intellectual efforts to merge word, image, and the everyday began to reach their most sustained following.
In 1995, Tan did her last public show at the Galerie Entre Temps at Espace Eiffel Braly in Paris. At this point, she underwent a spiritual crisis and did not create any form of public art for her remaining years in Paris. She left Europe and moved to her ancestral village in China for eight months, conversing with Buddhism and eastern mysticism until, she says in her memoir, she chanced upon a local evangelical Christian church and converted to Christianity. She moved on to Baguio to lead a largely solitary but highly spiritual life. Much of the art she had created was stored in her attic, still packed in the crates shipped from Paris in 1995.
For the next 27 years she lived a rather private life in Baguio, acquiring a three-story house where she lived by herself. She had become very involved in a local church and was a well-loved fixture in the community. When she had a mild heart attack in 2009, se began to think of revisiting her art, but this time, dedicating any future work or sales to raise money to fund her various humanitarian projects with the local church in Baguio. On January 6, 2022, she passed away at the age of 85, just a few days after she had expressed wanting to find a way to recreate some of her well-known art performances, or exhibit her art. Her entire oeuvre as well as her papers are now being catalogued and archived under the custodianship of her estate.
In in 2019, Ms. Tan wrote an autobiography for an exhibit she held with her church. Read the text here.