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French-Filipino art collab hatches

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 02, 2022 5:00 am

You’ve probably seen it, driving up to Central Square, the Stores Specialists Inc. (SSI) building in BGC: a 25-meter-high street mural decorating one side of the building.

In it, colorful cartoon chickens (or “chicanos”) frolic along a vertical space that also incorporates vibrant abstract shapes (maybe you see a cross in there, maybe you don’t) and a black and white rooster on top of it all. The piece is called “Up to the Sky!” and it brings together street artists Ceet Fouad (France) and Egg Fiasco (Philippines), part of a months-long celebration of 75 years of French-Philippines ties that started up June 26.

With a strong French-Philippine exhibit ongoing at Pintô Art Museum (“Diamond in the Rough”), the just-completed Fete De La Musique returning to live stages in Manila and the islands for the first time in several locked-down years, and a host of gastronomical, sporting and musical events to come, it’s the French Embassy of the Philippines’ way of marking a strong, enduring amitié.

Look, up in the sky!: The CEET x Egg Fiasco mural decorates a side of Central Square Mall in BGC.

So I had to ask the two artists standing in front of the cornucopia of characters last Tuesday the age-old question: Which came first? The chicanos or the Egg?

“Egg did his parts first,” says Fouad. “Then I worked over it with the chicanos.”

Yup, they both took turns mounting a crane to layer in their contributions — a process not without incident, as we’ll see.

Up to the sky with SSI and Rustan’s execs at Central Square: From left are Annelle Lansangan, Happy Lopez, Jeanie Mangonon, Mitch Suarez, Ambassador Boccoz, Maritess Tantoco-Enriquez, Nedy Tantoco, Claire Piton, Elizabeth Quiambao, Marilou Tantoco-Pineda, Rustan’s president Donnie Tantoco, Leah Jocson and Kay Yu Dar.

Also on hand at Central Square Mall to celebrate were French Ambassador to the Philippines Michèle Boccoz, SSI chairman-CEO Zenaida Tantoco, show curator Claire Thibaud-Piton and HoneycombArts event producer Kayo Cosio.

“Creating together between French and Filipino artists is the soul of this anniversary,” said Ambassador Boccoz, in praising the mural. “Congratulations to Ceet and Egg for elegantly and creatively illustrating this anniversary.”

Mrs. Tantoco had this message: “I wish to offer the heartfelt congratulations of SSI as well as the Tantoco family for this beautiful artistic collaboration to mark this 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations. We are proud to have been chosen, out of all the buildings in BGC, to be the recipient of this street art mural.”

Celebrating 75 years of friendship: Art producer Kayo Cosio, artist Egg Fiasco, SSI chairman-CEO Zenaida “Nedy” Tantoco, French Ambassador Michele Boccoz, artist Ceet Fouad, curator Claire Thibaud-Piton

Ambassador Boccoz also praised the two artists for “playing ‘hide and seek’ with the rain, and patiently working long hours 25 meters up in the air “when the crane decided to go on strike and they were stuck there on top.” (It’s true: Ceet was stalled up on a crane for about an hour, but all’s well; they worked at night when it was cooler, so he could just keep painting and chill.)

The launch, paired with champagne and delicious pica-pica, was held inside the mall due to early rain, but later shifted outdoors as the sun showed up.

Artist Ceet explained how he and Egg exchanged drawings and designs via email for months before he flew into Manila this month to complete the mural at lightning speed: “I flew straight from France to work with Egg — he’s like my little brother now, we spent almost 10 days together, working on the building. As you can imagine, it was 25 meters high, we took a lot of risks, but we had a lot of pleasure. We really like it. I love Manila. Mahal ko, Manila.”

CEET and Egg Fiasco just kept going after the mural, doing this canvas “for charity” in a span of hours.

Egg had this to say: “I was really excited to work on this project. It’s a great honor to collaborate with Ceet. It’s a great experience for me, and to represent the Philippines and what I do.”

Some artists use something from nature; I like to do something funny, colorful. So I make it more colorful, more happy, playful.

The mural unveiling pairs up with the ongoing exhibit “Up to the Sky!” at Vinyl on Vinyl in Makati until July 12, in partnership with Rose Studio Art Gallery in France.

If you ask the artists to explain the mural’s message, that’s another chicken-egg kind of question: French artist Fouad, now Hong Kong-based, has been drawing his humanized chicanos on the streets and for galleries for years using chalk, spray-cans and markers. “It’s my icon,” he says. “Some artists use something from nature; I like to do something funny, colorful. And the chicken — we really don’t talk about it, we just eat it, you know. So I make it more colorful, more happy, playful.” (Mrs. Tantoco tells me: “The story I heard is that when Ceet first arrived in China, he spoke no English; he wanted to eat chicken, so he drew a chicken and showed it to his friend — that’s how he communicated his order!”)

CEET and Egg Fiasco take a selfie with (from left) show curator Claire Thibaud-Piton, French Ambassador to the Philippines Michèle Boccoz and SSI CEO Zenaida Tantoco

Greg (“Egg”) Fiasco, meanwhile, had been laying down his retro-futuristic neo-graffiti designs on street walls for years before helping to found SecretFresh Gallery in 2008. The shapes add a climbing field of gray, blue, mint green, orange and pink as a backdrop that rises up to the top of the mural, over which Ceet populates the field with chicanos.

Is there a single meaning behind the mural? “No, it’s about art,” Ceet answers simply. “When I do art, the connection is more with, like, happiness.”

Curator Thibaud-Piton, who mashed these two street artists together, believes in the power of public art to change perceptions (“The city is the museum, the building is the gallery, the wall is the canvas”) and she partnered with Cosio to select a site in BGC for the project. Cosio loves that, during its creation, people would stop, look up at the mural and ask, “What does it mean?” “That’s what I like about public art, it gains new meaning every day as people pass by and look at it. I’m sure it means something else to the artists, but they will not always be around to explain.”

President of Rustan Commercial Corp. Donnie Tantoco, SSI CEO Zenaida Tantoco and French Embassy Counselor on Cooperation and Culture Affairs Marc Piton

Fouad and Egg also unveiled a smaller canvas on a similar theme, which they will hope to sell to raise money for a local charity. And Ceet promised to invite Egg to Paris to do more exhibits and collaborations.

Earlier, I asked Mrs. Tantoco and Ambassador Boccoz to give one word to describe French-Philippines friendship.

“Fashion!” Mrs. Tantoco responded immediately. True, Central Square does house many French luxury brands, including Charriol, Diptyque, L’Occitane and NARS, plus Calvin Klein, DKNY, Acca Kappa, MAC, Furla, Michael Kors, Kate Spade New York, Muji and more.

“It’s really also about fellowship,” added Ambassador Boccoz. “We love the same things. We love singing, eating, family relations. This six months, it really will bring us closer together, like this painting today.”

“We really have so much in common, like appreciation of art,” added Tantoco. “That’s why the relationship is so warm.”

Will SSI feature more street murals on its malls, like Central Square, in the future?

“Hopefully,” said Mrs. Tantoco. “We have four walls!”

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Visit Central Square BGC to see the Ceet x Egg Fiasco mural. Also explore the many events celebrating 75 Years of French-Philippines Friendship.