Photo by Debbie Bartolo

Home is Where the “Art” Is: Iloilo Houses Show Where Art Lives

By debbie bartolo

“Where Thou Art—that—is Home.” – Emily Dickinson

I just found this opening line from one of Dickinson’s poems posted in the internet that I have no intention of analyzing further than its fantastic rhyming scheme. While the actual meaning behind the poem lost me entirely—and lest I forget that her seventeen hundred works are enough to slap me dead—the Highness Emily might have described what my subconscious was speaking to me recently.

Here’s why: ever since arriving in Iloilo, I’ve encountered many homes that seem like literal paeans to art.The good thing about it? These “homes” are spread out all over Iloilo, so I’m sure you’ll have a good chance of visiting at least one of them. At the very least, these spaces listed below will remind every soul that art should not be distant, or only available in the galleries, but can be where the home is.

Home of the Lost Soles

Home is Where the "Art" is - Project Iloilo
Photo from Home of the Lost Soles BnB

Riza Ornos, when not penning fantastic articles on how important it is for Ilonggas to love themselves first, goes by many identities: As “bata ni Ricardo”, the lady that has “may upod nga Kano”, and—this one’s my favourite—the self-declared queen of the mermaids. More recently, she’s become the owner of Home of the Lost Soles, an abode that will surely captivate, as well as refresh, the senses of anyone lucky enough to stay there.

Home of the Lost Soles - Project Iloilo
Photo by Debbie Bartolo

Every now and then she’s inviting people, whether they’re coming in as friends or as fellow couchsurfers, to her place in Villa.  So, it should only make sense that her single-floor space—which hosted many intimate bondings under the dancing lights and with the cold breeze coming in fresh from the Villa shoreline—has been transformed, with a help of trusted carpenter and supportive relatives, into something that speaks of flight and of chasing one’s dream.  How cool is that, eh?

Her latest creation and, I believe, masterpiece entitled Damgois exactly that: A dream that she’s now looking at every waking day. This is just one of the many standout pieces to Riza’s ten feet-wide, nipa hut-inspired space that makes Lost Soles such a sight to behold. As soon as I saw it for the first time, I even took out both my Catholic figurines and voodoo dolls at the same time to celebrate a wish coming to life!

So, to anyone who’s soul searching never ends, this might be the place to go to, courtesy of the lady who has the heart of a traveller, but only with a tail instead of feet.

Balay Kaliwat

Balay Kaliwat - Project Iloilo
Photo by Debbie Bartolo

Having been raised in Manila with parents who spoke Karay-a, the idea of oceans, green fields and its accompanying warm breeze have always been scenic memories back from the moment when vacation meant traveling 23 hours by boat and bus to reach my roots. As time passed, the family grew tired of tedious packing, but my imagination never did.

Upon stepping into Balay Kaliwat, I was reminded of where the genesis of being human all began. From the serenity of the ocean, the harmony of nature and the hearty laughter of neighboring kids, Kaliwat embraces every breath to the art the earth has to offer. It is indeed safe to say that this home offers satisfaction for the yearning of the soul—may it be peace, solitude… who knows?

Of course, the Balay Kaliwat experience will never be complete without meeting the vibrant person behind it: Momo Dalisay, the ‘Heartist’, who happens to be one of the few creatives I know who never flaunted his ascribed popularity in the art world, but rather carries himself with meekness and bliss. Kaliwat is his ever-evolving project made out of creations of the earth—stones, woods, vines, branches, roots, mud, ocean, fire and wind—that I believe this is where Aang, The Last Airbender hid before unveiling himself for mass media consumption.

Structurally, Balay Kaliwat is nothing more than a wood-and-stone lodge that can accommodate around 10 – 15 people. However, its real highlight is the garden where Momo’s sculptures and living art relax. In addition, his paintings on the pre-historic times of the Philippines as well as his extensive library will surely feed the mind of anyone curious enough to discover about our nation’s identity.  Embedded below is the documentary I shot for Momo where he went in detail about the “breathing” art of the earth:

Ultimately, Kaliwat is a stream of how Momo views the world and the art living within. No wonder this has become San Joaquin’s best-kept secret.

The amazing spaces that welcomed me here in Iloilo with open arms are not just a testament to how creativity is all around us, but also to how our lives are its own art. And since we’re talking about art, let’s start with our homes and make sure we always leave something behind.

P.S. Thank you, idle office hours, for giving me the time to write and bitch and surf. OK, back to work.

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