IT WAS a dream that was taking its time to be fulfilled. It was thus fitting that when the first ever Mindanao Art Fair, Exhibit, and Conference opened in a well-attended gala affair last October 4, 2019, with friends, art patrons, and art personalities including Kidlat Tahimik, the national artist for film, who happened to be billeted in the hotel where the art fair guests from all over were booked and thus accepted the invitation to grace the opening night.
The initial attempts to organize date back more than six years ago when artist friends gathered to commit to hold exhibits as malls opened their doors to art exhibits.
Thus, in 2013, the loose group called Artists Helping Artists was born and several exhibits were held at prime spots of Abreeza Mall.
“After several group exhibits came the realization that this is not enough. If we are to bring to life an industry that sustains artists, then just setting up exhibits is not the way,” said Lawig-Diwa Inc. president and executive director Rey Mudjahid “Kublai” P. Millan in his speech during the gala night.
Lawig-Diwa is the organizer of MindanaoArt and was the one that applied for the grant from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts-National Commission on Art Galleries (NCCA-NCAG) for a regional fair, which incidentally was the first regional fair grant opened by NCAG.
The exhibits in 2013 and 2014 were not something to scoff at as artists of different genre, ages, and professions were gathered and close to 50 paintings were displayed per show. The camaraderie even paved the way for enthusiasts to jump into the art world, the likes of Dr. Nina Custodio, who has since been joining group exhibits abroad and also had her solo exhibit at Art Portal two years ago, and nurse Rosamond Alejar who later migrated to the US with her family.
The vision is very clear, stimulate a thriving industry peopled by well-grounded artists who has the heart for Mindanao.
When Kublai was invited as resource speaker to The Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exhibit Conference (Viva Excon) in November 2016 he got to know Viva Excon organizer Charlie Co more and learned of Excon’s beginnings and struggles in 1990. Charlie is among the most sought-after artists from the Visayas and operates Gallery Orange and the Art District in Bacolod City. This exposure and collaboration brought forth the Panag-Abut Art Residency hosted by Kublai at his home last September 25-28, 2017, with the help of artist friends including Jefferson “Jeff” Bangot of the Davao City National High School and Victor Augustus Dumaguing of the University of Mindanao College of Architecture and Fine Arts Education (Cafae), two artists who have always been there to lend their hand whether it be for workshops or exhibits.
Here, art students and local artists got to meet and interact with established artists from Visayas and Luzon including Charlie and Gallery Orange artists Frelan L. Gonzaga, Junjun Montelibano Jr., Alan Ong, Karina Broce Gonzaga, and RA Tijing, and Manila artists Manny Garibay, Demetrio dela Cruz, Jojo Austria, and Otto M. Neri. They are artists whose works are sought after by collectors.
This has always been the problem in Mindanao – very few are buying local artists’ creations; very few can sustain a life through their art.
“That was a successful first attempt, but the lesson learned was: We need money to sustain this, we need some support, but most of all, we must strive for more than just art residency and learning,” Kublai said.
Another piece of the puzzle came from a request by Davao City Councilor Mary Joselle Villafuerte to this writer. Her cousin was in town for the burial of the matriarch of the Villafuerte family and he wanted to meet artists or at least see local artworks on February 20, 2017. On a very short notice, no artist contacted was available. Kublai had just flew off to Manila for a tour of Europe with his wife, but he agreed to a tour of his house and Ponce Suites even without him. The cousin was Danny Rayos del Sol of the NCCA-NCAG who also curates ManilaArt, the national art fair held every October at the SMX in SM Aura, Taguig City.
Like puzzle pieces, everything fell into place. Several learning meetings were held on how ManilaArt was sustained for a decade, and how to put up a major selling exhibit. The answer is in the galleries, Danny said. That is why NCAG’s mandate is to help galleries so these can help artists. It’s about making galleries thrive so that artists thrive.
Months flew by and finally came the letter announcing that Lawig-Diwa got the NCCA Competitive Grant for Regional Art Fairs for 2019, which was opened for bids in the first half of 2018.
How did I know these details? Since resigning as editor-in-chief of SunStar Davao, I went on board as corporate secretary of Lawig-Diwa in preparing for MindanaoArt and was first-hand witness to how it all began having dabbled in painting as fillers in the exhibits in the early years.
MindanaoArt thus opened to a grand display of what Mindanao artists is all about, bringing in art enthusiasts, kibitzers, collectors, and art patrons alike with NCCA’s top executives including newly-installed executive director and former Davao City Councilor Al Ryan Alejandre, Commissioner for the Cultural Heritage Section Fr. Harold Rentoria, and outgoing NCAG head John Delan Robillos, who has encouraged Lawig-Diwa a lot after the company won the bid. Also present were National Committee on Museums head Amado Alvarez, Accreditation and Grands Processing Section Head Christopher Lucindo, Grants Processing Officer Rodelio Candor, and Rio Ambrosio, Chit Asignacion, Carla Teotico, and Addie Cukingnan from NCAG who were there to observe and monitor.
There too were Vice Mayor Sebastian Z. Duterte, Danny Rayos del Sol and wife Tess, ManilaArt president and founder Atty. Amy Loste with Atty. Bai Loste, art collector and philanthropist Flora Bangayan Cua and daughter Sheree, Eddie Bangayan, Hijo Resources CEO Rosanna Tuason-Fores, Mrs. Nancy dela Rosa, Undersecretary Joann Burgos, Rep. Jericho Nograles, celebrity doctor Joseph Lee, Ateneo de Davao University president Fr. Joel Tabora, Dr. Mae Concepcion Dolendo, US-based book publisher Eduardo Datangel, Department of Foreign Affairs Mindanao Assistant Secretary Uriel Norman R. Garibay, Charlie and Ann Co, Norman and Jen Chiu, Tourism Regional Director Tanya Rabat Tan, Gaisano Mall’s Kelvin Gaisano, and Riza Muyot, who joined Kublai and friends for a limited selection of collaborative artworks in the ManilaArt 2019 just a week later. There were a lot of other friends and artists who graced the opening and the two days that followed.
Exhibiting their works were the following galleries and their artists:
The Datu Bago Gallery with art instructor Jefferson Bangot made a 8 feet by 32 feet acrylic polytych. Participating student artists were: art instructors Jefferson Bangot and Jayreeve Guerrero with their senior high students Steve Nico Baluyot, Joshua Limpo, Rother Vrylle Lorenzana, Cris Novel Yriarte, Allene Grace Baculi, Trini Rose Bunao, Danica Kae Cubrado, Shiela Mae Ganade, Vanessa Kaye Madera, Clarice Nacito, Mari Elizabeth Sumatra, and Bianca Zamora.
“Meander” by Art Portal featured Ang Valente, Dennis Puzon, El San, Jester Oani, Leonardo Comargo, Noi Narciso, Paula Feliciano, Red Genotiva, and Trexia Sola and curated by Laya Boquiren.
“The Twinning of Creation and Destruction” by Bintana Art Gallery featured the works of George Abaigar, Alex Alagon, Jag Bueno, Anoy Catague, Bong Espinosa, Pinx Gaspe, JC Gonzales, Donn Manguilimotan, Gilbert Miraflor, Victor Secuya, and Jong Tangiday.
The Piguras Davao showed two murals entitled “The Silent Witness” painted by Dominick “Coi” San Pedro Pilapil, Kim Vale, Alfred Galvez, Dominic Turno, King Nelson Duyan, Mark Kiram Tolentino, Bryan Cabrera, Rene Pilapil, and Rey Bollozos.
Tabula Rasa featured Dadai Joaquin, Brando Cedeno, Daryl Descallar, Jane Raos, Dinky Munda, Jojo Jimenez, and Madoline dela Rosa.
Capitol University’s Museum of 3 Cultures put up a photo and performance art exhibit by photojournalist Froilan Gallardo and performance artist Nicolas Aca.
ADZU Museum of the Peninsula and the Archipelago showed works of Edwin Jumalon, Lorna Fernandez, and Kiko Miranda curated by Janine Michelle Cabato.
Likha-Karaga brought the works of John Lester Garcia, Jobert Bermejo Oclarit, Roland Delara, Cris Tamis, Rades Allegre, Zin Ortiz, Ariel Sitoy, Marvic Eric Simudlan, GM Licong, Goy Baldo Candelario, Reste Sala, Anna Marie Perez, Sonny Boy Correces, Alwin Musa, Jojo Pablo, and Jessie B. Tariga, Jr.
The Talaandig tribe soil painters featured works by Waway Saway, Salima Saway Agra-an, RJ Sumingsang Saway, Gerald Saway, Balugto P. Necosia Jr., Raul S. Bendit, Chong Tecson, and Jhonrey L. Santisas.
The Art Conference at the RSM Event Center of Philippine Women’s College also featured art personalities, but that’s another story worthy of an article.
A major art event finally took off and will continue to soar for as long as there are artists, art groups, and patrons who share the same vision.