Kulayara’s Suzette Hernandez Relaunches Her Art Gallery

To fully appreciate how unique Kulayara Art Gallery is, aside from viewing its exhibits, one has to meet its owner, a businesswoman named Suzette Ramirez Hernandez. Suzette does not appear like the stereotypical art gallery owner, usually depicted in pop culture as uptight sophisticates. The thirty-something and soft-spoken Suzette, looks too cool and casual that no art enthusiast would feel too intimidated by her. Actually, given her charms and attributes – tall frame, voluptuous curves, longhair framing a pretty face – it usually is no surprise for people to approach.

And she likes it that way that she has evolved into becoming a woman who invites the attention, engages the company, and earns the camaraderie of people. “Diplomacy helps a lot in business,” Suzette notes, referring to her not-so-distant past which saw her almost pursuing a career in consulates. The woman behind Kulayara Art Gallery indeed has come a long way, all the way from roots that nobody imagined would lead her to the business of art. Not even her.

Young dancer (and teenage beauty queen) takes on the hard life
Suzette’s presence in the Philippine arts community as gallery owner since 2011 did not come from her being a high-brow player in the game, because she came from the not-even-parallel field of Foreign Service. She took that course in Lyceum of the Philippines, majored in International Trade, expecting she would embark on a diplomatic career. At the same time, she was enjoying college, being part of the Lyceum Dance Troupe which performed in international competitions and had her traveling abroad. She was also a teenage beauty queen, having won the Press Photography Miss Camarines Norte pageant at the age of fifteen. She got invited to join other pageants, and was even offered to consider acting, all while still in school. All these did not distract her from her studies, as she finished her degree in less than four years by constantly enrolling summer courses.
“God was really wise and it appears that He really put that drive in me to graduate fast so I can later help my family deal with what happened to our mother,” recalls Suzette. Her mother got sick with cancer and died. Suzette personally took charge in caring for their mother while also helping manage the family’s handicrafts business. Even after her mother passed on, she still helped with the family business, and began setting up her own ventures, totally letting go of any possibility to pursue a career in diplomacy.

Businesswoman (and ramp model) takes on the art trade
But her diplomatic nature persisted in her, leading her to do business with friends and colleagues. After setting up and managing a coffee shop, engaging in Christmas decoration and crafts-making, and even gracing the ramps as a fashion model, she helped manage a friend’s company which specialized in selling Murano blown glass. The company also bought and sold paintings from Venice.
These aspects of the business, which had her immersed in world-class crafts and art, inspired her to consider setting up her own business that also dealt with art. After all, without her being conscious of it, she has always been in the world of arts and crafts, through the family business she helped sustain. Aside from the artistic sensibilities, she always had great taste too, crucial to her being able to help her friend’s Murano glass and Venice paintings business. She discussed her plans with her friend, and her friend respected her decision and wished her well. The ever-keen Suzette reassured her friend, “Don’t worry, we won’t be competitors. I will focus on local art, and if I got clients looking for Venice art, I will direct them to you. Everybody wins!”

Art gallery owner (and family woman) takes on a mission
“I was aware of the fleeting nature of modeling and showbiz. I knew it cannot be my bread and butter. So I was intent on pursuing a career as a businesswoman. But I also wanted it to be a business that makes a difference. At this point, I now realize the value of legacies we leave behind. I want to be doing something like that, something that helps build legacies,” said Suzette.
In the case of Kulayara Art Gallery, that would be the legacy of fine art by the country’s best artists, all reflective of our lives as Filipinos. The first incarnation of Kulayara dates back in 2011, around the time when Suzette started seriously building her own art collection. That first version of the gallery was located in Connecticut Street. Suzette later transferred the location to Montessori Lane, also in San Juan. She constantly considers the convenience of guests and patrons, and after her latest search for a better location, she has now settled with #28 Gutierrez Street in San Juan’s Little Baguio district. She finds the new location most ideal for its accessibility, serenity and privacy.

The art lover takes on things that matter the most
Suzette, aside from current forays into real estate, agri-business, and buy-and-sell, still considers exploring other businesses, such as setting up a clothes boutique given her love for fashion. She is also an active member of Lions Club and Rotary Club, where she finds joy in participating into volunteer or charitable works that keep her grounded to her values.
But among all her businesses, she says Kulayara keeps a most special place in her heart, because it is the business from where she has gained the most insight about things that matter most in life. Suzette shares, “What we see in artworks is the expression of the artists. But when we buy art, aside from the usual reasons of buying it as investment, or to complement the design of our homes, we ought to consider what we see in the artwork beyond the artist’s expression, how it strikes us personally. How is this expression affecting me? Only then can the artwork we buy have real value to us.”


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