In one of April Werle’s paintings, a disembodied and expressive hand touches a mirror with its index finger. In the reflection, its skin tone is lighter. The title is, “I started looking in the mirror and only seeing a white person.” One side of the mirror has pine trees, the other palm trees.
The piece is part of the Helena native’s new show, “Halo-Halo: The Mixed Children,” at the Zootown Arts Community Center.
Werle’s mother is from the Philippines, her father is a white Montanan whose family goes back generations here. She came to the University of Montana to study art, graduating in 2016. Around 2020, feeling self-conscious about trying to find a Filipino community here, she began to realize “the way that I see myself in the mirror is completely my own bias, and that other people may see me differently or may see me similar.”
Some of the hands are painted with black-and-white split tones, half lighter and half darker that leaves them ambiguous. She hopes “people realize it’s up to them, and how they see those hands — they see it as one or the other, or they see it as a whole.”
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Werle returned to her home city in fall of 2022 for a solo museum exhibition, “Mga Hunghong Sa Diwata (Whisper of Spirits),” that included a temporary mural in addition to prints and paintings. In late 2022 through early 2023, she was part of a group exhibition at the Missoula Art Museum called “Imaging the Sacred,” that included three other female artists. This ZACC show is an extension to her, focusing less on Filipino folklore and stories.
“There’s references to my Filipino heritage, but it’s