I’ve been involved in the Philippine visual arts scene for 30 years, and it’s been a journey full of ups and downs, but mostly I’d say it’s been inspiring and leaves me hopeful.
A turning point for me was having the opportunity to serve on the Visual Arts Committee of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCVA) six years ago, with the last three years as the Committee Head for the Visual Arts. NCVA is one of the 19 national grant-giving committees composed of volunteer artists and cultural workers from different organizations in Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and Metro Manila. It provides opportunities to network with like-minded colleagues around the country and facilitates learning of current arts issues beyond the capital. Being exposed to art around the country is always exciting and refreshing.
At the height of the pandemic up to the time when travel restrictions were relaxed by the IATF, reaching out to visual artists in the regions to keep abreast of their practices and activities was one way for me to feel connected. It was heartening to discover their resilience in the face of a global crisis, as they initiated programs in the new normal through various modalities: via Zoom in the early days of the lockdown in 2020, then eventually a combination of face-to-face and online.
In December 2021, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch of the Anakbanwa Art Exhibit at the historic MacArthur House in the West Central Elementary School 1 Compound in Dagupan. The exhibit featured artists in a collaborative exhibition between Luzon-based artists who were part of the Anakbanwa Creative Residency Program and Pangasinan-based artists.
Established by Rep. Toff de Venecia, the lead proponent for the Philippine Creative Industries Act, the Anakbanwa Creative Residency Program was founded in September last year. Anakbanwa refers to the Austronesian people who first founded Pangasinan, circa 2500 BC. The residency program is for artists to conduct research and workshops, immerse themselves in creative communities, experience cultural heritage, learn from diverse artistic practices, and experience the ecological landscape within the province. It attempts to reimagine the role of the artist as mediator between social justice issues and society through arts and creative strategies through exhibitions, talks, performance-based mediums, and other hybrid forms of communication.
In November last year, the Creative Baguio City Council, City Tourism Office of Baguio, and the Baguio Arts and Crafts Collective, Inc. launched Alimuom, the 2021 Ibag’iw Creative Festival Art Exhibition. I didn’t make the trip to Baguio, but I was in touch with the deputy curator of the exhibition Alain Camiling, who introduced me to printmaker and art educator, and lead curator, Fara Manuel-Nolasco.
The theme Alimuom refers to the scent of the earth: a reminder that the place we are in, our home, is alive and well. Perhaps it was a reference to the pandemic as well. The exhibition featured 60 Baguio-based visual artists with practices in various media and techniques. Apart from the actual exhibition at the Baguio Convention Center, the organizers set up a website that also served as a commercial platform for the artists to sell their work.
Art is no longer just a passion. I would like to say I live and breathe it, but perhaps the more apt term is 'advocacy.'
Another component of Alimuom was The Baguio Art Archive Project, a research initiative that featured interviews of creatives, and collation of posters and news clippings to attempt to map a history of Baguio’s art ecosystem.
An aim of the Ibag’iw Creative Festival was to provide a venue for local artists and artisans to explore new ideas and designs. Ibag’iw means someone or something that is from or made in Baguio. There was a wealth of art and I was mesmerized.
Visual artist and curator Marika Constantino relocated from Metro Manila to Roxas City in Capiz in late 2019. In 2018, I was reintroduced to the province during the Viva ExCon, a Visayas-wide biennale and discovered that the locale inspired her.
In February 2020, Constantino founded KANTINA, an art space for co-learning and co-creation. She initiated international projects throughout the lockdown with her co-members. One of these projects was Turo-Turo in collaboration with 98B Collaboratory and Hub Make Lab for the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. KANTINA conducted an online pressed flower workshop that featured the blooms of Roxas City. Another international project Constantino co-curated was Sa Kada May Paglaum (With Every Seed, We Plant Hope) in partnership with Asakusa, an exhibition venue for contemporary art in Tokyo, Japan, committed to advancing curatorial practices. The project hoped to engage artists and non-artists alike to look at the creative process in relation to vegetable growing, sustainability, and the sense of stewardship that we can initiate in our backyards. The project also aimed to respond to the current pandemic through artistry, resilience, and optimism.
At Viva ExCon in 2020, which was held in Negros Occidental, the theme was Dasun (which means “next”) and referred to the future. It celebrated 30 years of VIVA ExCon led by conference director, visual artist Manny Montelibano. Dasun had a two-part virtual conference. One featured discussions on the future of arts education, governance, family, business, and organizations. It was attended by visual artists from Antique, Bantayan, Ormoc, Leyte, Samar, Aklan, Capiz, Iloilo, Guimaras, Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Manila, and abroad.
Another virtual conference consisted of weekly talks and presentations where visual artists and collectives shared updates on their progress for “Kalibutan: The World in Mind” exhibition, with Dr. Patrick Flores as lead curator. It included an online component and had a tribute exhibition to art stalwarts Nunelucio Alvarado, Brenda Fajardo, Leandro Locsin, and Lino Severino. There were over 2,000 visual artists represented.
In 2020, I reached out to visual artist Kublai Millan through Facebook Messenger because I was interested in his project, the Mindanao Art Fair, organized through Lawig-Diwa. It was a bold initiative because the art market is largely ensconced in Metro Manila where collectors reside and galleries are located. The Mindanao Art Fair is partially funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Committee on Art Galleries. The theme was art in a new landscape and featured artists from Davao City, Davao del Norte, Caraga Region, North Cotabato, General Santos City, Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Zamboanga. Despite the pandemic, they were aggressive in showcasing the art of the region.
Shortly before the Enhanced Community Quarantine, Panit Bukog 4 was launched with a month-long exhibition and a series of lectures and workshops on contemporary art from Mindanao. It was co-curated by Philippine Pavilion curator at the 58th Venice Biennale Tessa Maria Guazon, Northern Mindanao Coordinator for the NCVA Errol Balcos, and former NCVA Head Cris Rollo.
The exhibition showed work on essential and unique Mindanaoan realities on peace and environment preservation and displayed wall-bound pieces, sculpture, installation, performance-to-video, animation, digital images, and multimedia art forms. It was held in several locations: Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan’s Museo de Oro, Capitol University’s Museum of Three Cultures, and SM Downtown Premier. Talks were held where artists shared their passion and processes. Participating artists came from the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Iligan, Dipolog, General Santos, Pagadian, Zamboanga, and the provinces of Bukidnon and Cotabato.
At this point in my career, art is no longer just a passion. I would like to say I live and breathe it, but perhaps the more apt term is “advocacy.” The visual arts in the Philippines are not limited to Metro Manila. There is an abundance of talent and opportunities in art nationwide. I try to engage in them as much as my energy and time permit. My goal is to be able to disperse and promote the visual arts around our nation to as many people as possible.