Photo by ATMOS.PH

That Time a Frenchman went to VIVA ExCon

By marc belloni

The last time the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference—or VIVA ExCon, as this art biennale is more commonly referred to—was held was back in 1996. Much to the delight of the local art community, this event was revived by Rock Drilon and his tireless team that went to great lengths to offer a great gathering for delegates who came in from other regions and countries like South Korea, Japan, Spain, and Italy.

So in other words, it’s like APEC for the Iloilo art community.

casa real art fair - Project Iloilo
The Casa Real Art Fair | Photo by Jeikeu Photography and VIVA ExCon Media Team

It couldn’t have come at a better time, too: Over the past two years, new public and private art galleries have opened all over the city, while the fertile ground of the local Fine Arts colleges are now offering ample space for the “new generation” to show their works beside their elders. In effect, these galleries have formed a new map of Iloilo City that art lovers can use to wander for places that fulfill their need for colors, forms and concepts. Painting, photography, sculpture and installations were just everywhere this year.

From November 10th leading to VIVA ExCon’s culminating dates on the 18th to the 20th, new exhibits opened daily from the most intimate art galleries to the largest malls in the city. For the visitor, maybe an average person like the writer of these lines, the art biennale is like opening a new window to another world.

Cultural Night at the University of San Agustin Iloilo - Project Iloilo
Cultural Night at University of San Agustin | Photo courtesy of USA Little Theater

The figurative and abstract pieces that mixed with the symbolic proved that this event was as culturally diverse and rich as the region of Panay itself. And it also makes sense, too: For eons past, it’s been the mark of life in Panay to trade goods, ideas, and of course, art with other nationalities.

Of note was the plenary sessions held on VIVA ExCon’s culminating dates. Featuring talks centered on themes like “Sustaining Art Practice” and “Art, The Artist, The Community”, the presentations focused on various topics like community-oriented art advocacies, the importance of art collecting and its market, art criticism, and—in what is surely an Ilonggo staple at this point—Ilonggo cuisine and its impact on cultural heritage.

Garbo Sa Bisaya 2016 Awardees - Project Iloilo
Garbo Sa Bisaya 2016 Awardees | Photo by ATMOS.PH

The arguable highlight, however, was Dr. Ana Labrador’s announcement that the National Museum will open two branches in Iloilo—specifically, at the Old Jaro Municipal Hall and the Iloilo Rehabilitation Center—and also return the Panay archaeological artifacts conserved in Manila.

The biennale closed on a festive note with ‘Garbo Sa Bisaya’, a series of ceremonies honoring the prominent art and culture actors of the Visayas with a multimedia exhibit of the awardees’ works and an awarding dinner that also saw young musical performers winning the night with their excellence.

Jecko Magallon painting at Ortiz Wharf - Project Iloilo
Viva ExCon Street Art at Ortiz Wharf. Photo by Eric Barbosa, Jr.

Roxas City was voted as the next host of VIVA ExCon in 2018. More art, more installations, more performances and more encounters are certainly in store. Similar with the region’s economic output, the Visayas region’s rich, artistic creations keep on growing, and its creators are eager to show the world what they can do.

university of the philippines visayas grounds performance - Project Iloilo
The performance of Ryu Eun Kim and Manny Montelibano at the UPV Grounds | Photo by Jeikeu Photography
Disclosure: The author is part of VIVA ExCon’s media team.

Marc Belloni is a writer for Project Iloilo.