“Makaon Bala Ina?”: Why ‘Arte sa Kalye’ can Influence “Common Ilonggos” to Appreciate Art

By joseph batcagan

Makaon na bala ina? [Can it be eaten?]”

Present art to any Ilonggo you encounter on the street, and this is probably the response you’ll be getting in return. Sure, it’s an unfair generalization, and it’s one that calls to mind deposed president Joseph Estrada’s inaugural “common tao” speech (“roof over their heads, food on their tables and clothes on their backs“, or the Filipino counterpart of it, at least).

Still, considering that August’s ‘Arte sa Kalye’ can be rightfully called as a moderate success, it can be sobering to know that, really, the most appreciation that any of these finished pieces will get at the very least are to serve as backgrounds to the obligatory photo-ops. Or, at the very least, that is how City Tourism Officer Benito Jimena put it when Project Iloilo asked him why so many Ilonggos seem generally unappreciative of art: “It’s very difficult at first because we’re not used to being appreciative of the art community,” he says. “So, I think it’s high time to inculcate the minds of Ilonggos and to educate them to be able to appreciate art in any wall that is provided in something legal and acceptable to society.”

Arte Sa Kalye - Project Iloilo

Indeed, ‘Arte sa Kalye’ is one of the city government’s latest projects to drum up tourism in the city–you know, just in case Dinagyang is not enough for the people visiting here. However, what should prove to be more surprising to anyone reading this is that the recently concluded competition has been participated not just by the seasoned artists of the city, but by the “everyday Ilonggos” that Jimena was referring to above.

Yes, we’re not making it up.

Student. Nurse. Artists.

‘Arte sa Kalye’ was marketed with the theme, “The Best of Western Visayas”. So, if it looked like everything about it screamed “populist”, then that was the point of the entire event: there were a lot of churches, beaches, mangoes, batchoy, and even Antique’s kawa hot bath portrayed on those murals–basically, everything that won’t look out of place in a local tourist brochure. The more art-savvy among the observers may gripe about the typicality of it all, but it’s hard to blame the participants when a great many of them have never even participated in a massive art project before.

Take Aira Jill Padernilla, for instance: a Civil Engineering major at Western Institute of Technology, the current president of the WIT Artists Society is already used to having her group contribute their talents for the school in the name of “commercial arts”, as she puts it. By that, she essentially means they were used to making backdrops for stage designs, large papier-maches for props, and the like. Considering that WIT has a reputation for being a technical-minded school, their workmanlike approach to art is hardly surprising.

That doesn’t mean she’s already contented with it, though; just like with many young people her age, she feels the realities of practical education prevent her from pursuing what she really wants. She says, “Damo sang talents ang students (sang WIT) sa mga arts. Kaso lang, ang course nga guinakuha nila is not related sa ila nga hilig. [There are many students at WIT who are talented at the arts. However, the courses they are taking are not related to what they like.]” So yes, the struggle is still present for the young ‘uns, it seems.

Arte Sa Kalye - Project Iloilo

It’s not exactly a problem unique to these students, of course; Daryl Dalipe got his first experience at painting when one of his high school teachers assigned him to finish a mural in exchange for merienda. Ever since he took up Nursing though, he wasn’t able to hone his talent for painting. Well, that was until a unique working proposition offered to him by his onetime place of employment allowed him to re-cultivate it.

Naka-duty ako sa Sara Hospital (sang) mga 2011. Before nag-end ang contract ko ‘to, nakapinta na ako sa (Pediatrics) Unit, [I went to duty at Sara Hospital last 2011. Before my contract ended there, I painted the entire Pediatrics Unit,]” Dalipe recounts. Before anyone gets the idea he may be getting unfairly exploited, he gleefully adds, “Ti nami ato kay imbes nga mag-duty ako, nagpinta lang ako, kag guinasuwelduhan man ako guihapon nila! [It’s good there since instead of performing my usual duties, I just painted there, and all while I’m still getting paid my salary!]”

When he transferred to Lemery after his contract ended at Sara (his employment terms had been set under the Department of Health’s Nurse Deployment Project), word got around from his former workplace about his knack for painting, so he essentially did the same thing there at a local health unit. He has since contributed his talents for several NGOs and international firms that have sponsored health outreach programs in the province. Really, as far as art training goes, Dalipe’s method probably counts as one of the most unorthodox.

It’s also why he was looking for a supportive community in mind when he submitted his piece for ”Arte sa Kalye’: “Sang nakita ko (ang poster) sa Facebook, (hambal ko), ‘Testingan ta ini bala‘. Wala man ako naghaum-haum nga madala man kay wala man ako sa techniques. Sa akon, hampang-hampang man lang, pangilala, para man lang makapaminta ako.”

[When I saw the poster on Facebook, I said to myself, ‘I’ll try this out.’ I did not expect to be included as one of the finalists because I have nothing to offer in terms of techniques. For me, I was, in a way, just playing around, make friends, just so I could have a reason to paint.]

Puro Mga Poster Lang Tanan

“Community” can be such a nebulous concept in any creative scene; for one, it’s great for an artist to find a group of equally creative people who will trumpet his or her work, no matter what it ends up being. But what if that artist wishes to grow, then? Well, that’s where internal politics of a scene can rear its ugly head.

Liby Limoso is an accomplished artist currently teaching at the University of San Agustin, and he’s also one of the judges for ‘Arte sa Kalye’. As is the case with anyone who has managed to see the evolution of the local art scene, he was able to bear witness to the ningas kugon-esque attempts to revive local arts: the momentum suddenly stops, and the movement finds itself having to begin again from scratch. The prime reason, according to him? Well, some people apparently can’t take criticism.

Ang isa diri ka problema sa Iloilo is, how do we digest criticism? Kalabanan, guinabagsak na (sang mga artists) ang criticism kay abi nila personal; wala nila ginagamit as a positive tool, [One problem here in Iloilo is, how do we digest criticism? Mostly, they dislike criticism because they think it’s a personal attack; they don’t use it as a positive tool,]” Limoso says. “So, for so many years, liwat-liwat sa umpisa [it keeps starting over].”

Arte Sa Kalye - Project Iloilo

In other words, It’s essentially parochialism writ on a micro level. Indeed, it has even caused doubts among some participants who dabble outside the “mainstream” of art: Marion Solis Lamaslig, a seaman by profession, is part of the local street art collective called Kant Stop Ilonggos Now (check this Ilonggo Popcast episode to learn more about them); not surprisingly, the group has been the frequent target of the city government’s anti-vandalism ordinance as of late. Like many of the finalists who have been included in ‘Arte sa Kalye’, he sees the competition as a way of improving his skills. There’s just one personal caveat for him, though.

May hesitation ako mag-intra (sa ‘Arte sa Kalye’) kay sa group namon bala, indi sila open sa conceptual art… kay basi masinuya-ay or amo ina bala, [I was hesitant in entering ‘Arte sa Kalye’ because in our group, they are not open to conceptual art… because it might lead to resentment or the like,]” Lamaslig says. Of course, he did exercise precaution by observing the kind of courtesy that is undeniably Filipino in nature: he asked permission from his seniors in the group.

Nag-istorya man ako sa ila nga gusto ko man tani mag-try bala, ma-showcase (ang obra ko). Basi malay mo,” he punctuates with a shrug.

[I told them that I would like to try entering the competition, to showcase my work. You never know.]

When Project Iloilo mentioned to Jimena the likelihood of the city government reaching out to graffiti artists for their involvement in future street art projects, he says: “They are also expressing art, but in a continuum that makes it something that does not give us a very good image. The contest is giving them one medium for expressing themselves, and I believe this would make them more aware of the responsibility that it should not be graffiti that they should be concentrating on, but on giving us messages and signs that they, too, are part of the mainstream.”

Arte Sa Kalye - Project Iloilo
The ‘Arte sa Kalye’ murals at Esplanade (Click image for high resolution version)

Art is indeed open to interpretation, but that philosophy becomes problematic when majority of the people looking at it can only approach so from a single perspective. The disconnect between how artists view art as opposed to how “common Ilonggos” look at it is a topic that we tried addressing in our interview with the participating artists, judges, and the organizers.

Limoso, for his part, is well aware of some Ilonggos’ perception of art as exclusivist: “Amo ina ang hambal mo nga ang common nga Ilonggo indi kabalo mag-appreciate? Ti kay siyempre, kulang man siya sa education. Ang guinahambal mo budlay mag-intindi? Ti kay ang naanaran lang, puro mga poster lang tanan,” he explains.

[You say common Ilonggos do not know how to appreciate art? Well, it’s because they lack the education. You say they have trouble understanding? Well, it’s because they are only used to seeing art in posters.]

That’s not to say the rest of the participants have only entered ‘Arte sa Kalye’ for purposes of self-expression: other than the fact that they are compelled by the event’s criteria to depict Western Visayas in a welcoming light, many of them are receptive to the idea that the art they’ll make should be one that is immediately “understandable”, for lack of a better word.

Rowell Escares, one of the finalists and a city hall employee, puts it in this manner: “Indi kinahanglan nga padalumon mo pa, [You don’t need to think about it too deeply,]” he says. “Ibutang mo ang kaugalingon mo sa (audience), indi lang sa imo nga kaugalingon. [You need to put yourself in the place of the audience, not just how you view it.]”

Hey, if Pinoy movies can strive for relatability, why not them?

A Wall for A Generation

There is also the problem of the contest actually reaching out to the people that the organizers are targeting in the first place. Daryl Dalipe, one of the finalists, estimates that only “20%” of the intended audience may have also known about ‘Arte sa Kalye’, and many of them might even be artists who could have qualified for the competition. “Kay indi tanan nga artists, maka-access sa Internet, [Not all artists have access to the Internet,]” he muses. (And we can even cite one example.) “Kung may mapanundum kita nga way—wala ko kabalo kung anonga malab-ot na sila, magaguluwa na diri ang mga artists sa Iloilo. [If we can find a way—I don’t know what—to reach them, then the artists in Iloilo will come out.]”

Limoso has the most straightforward solution to the above: “Hapos lang ina; basta well-educated lang ang population. Kag nami man kung ang local media and the local government, may ga-participate kag ga-document (sang mga events). [It’s easy; as long as the population is well-educated. It’s also better if the local media and the local government participate and document these events.]”

Jimena, at least in an official capacity, seems to have the same thing in mind. “(‘Arte sa Kalye’ is) something that is new to us and that is something we have not done before,” he says. He reiterates, “We want art to be available to everybody.” Considering that the City Tourism also has an upcoming project (as the next phase for ‘Arte sa Kalye’) where they’re looking to involve jeepney operators to have their vehicles serve as “medium for paintings”, it does seem there’s more than lip service involved this time around.

Arte Sa Kalye - Project Iloilo

Of course, little of these efforts will matter in the long run if many of the people involved are in it just for the fashion. Bottom line, according to Limoso, is this: “It’s not just because of passion. Indi hambalon nga nami-nami na guid ang technique mo (lang); ang ila lang guid is ang sincerity lang guid [It’s not just about having the greatest technique; sincerity is what they need.]

Having to stand two days under an unpredictable—and often unforgiving—weather just to finish a huge wall painting with little-to-nothing in return? Yep, these artists have “suffered” enough during competition time, with only three of the twelve murals awarded the top prizes. But it probably matters little to them; some of the competitors went straight home even as the awarding ceremony was going on, eager to wash themselves off of all the paint and sweat that has accumulated on their bodies.

At the very least, they can content themselves with their works preserved for posterity at the walls of Esplanade 2. Barring storms, earthquakes, consequences of global warming, and the End of Times, it sits still, ready for another generation of elementary kids to look at it and say, “Huo, maubra ko man ina.”

The finished murals for ‘Arte sa Kalye’ are available for viewing at Esplanade 2, Mandurriao, Iloilo City. For pictures of the works, please visit Project Iloilo’s official Instagram account.

Photos by Xtian Lozañes.

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.