VIVA ExCon: This is worth doing

OVER 250 vastly diverse individuals sprawled across the expansive grounds: teenagers and middle-aged men, young professionals and college kids, a gaggle of young girls and a handful of children, men in their prime and a group of personalities whose advancing age showed in their wisdom and grace.

It was a motley crowd dressed in all sorts of manner: from the executive-look to the exotic/ethnic batiks, from the work-mode clothes of cargo shorts and Merrels or Salomons to the grungy and punk.

Most were standing in groups, others seated on the grass or on chairs strewn about. Almost everyone had a beer in hand or some other spirit of choice. There was much light banter and hearty laughter everywhere one looked. They hung around, surrounding a makeshift stage glared gently with soft lights.

It would not take long for one to notice the unique kind of vibe that the gathered crowd exuded: there was a certain animated energy, a kind of happy-chill mode, a feeling of comradeship .Yet these were individuals with vastly- different backgrounds, of different ages and ethnic lineages, of various religions and beliefs. Collectively, these folks espoused a diverse array of political, and more importantly, artistic beliefs and schools-of-thought.

They had travelled across the wide expanse of the country’s islands to come together. Tonight, as with the previous nights, they came together in celebration of that which bound them: their love, practice of and passion for the visual arts. They were painters or sculptors, photographers and videographers, portraitists and animators, mixed-media and performance artists.

From Samar and Cebu, Iloilo and Dumaguete, Siquijor and Leyte, from all over the Visayas they gathered in Bacolod for four days and nights, forging shared memories, creating a network of colleagues and peers, reveling in the same artistic and intellectual undertakings not to mention the constant parties and fellowships. But tonight, they were about to say goodbye – for each a journey awaited them, back to their own island.

The 13th Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exposition and Conference (VIVA) was about to come to a close (at this time). And as is typical of the Negrense host, an unforgettable party must be had for such fond partings.

VIVA is the only arts festival of its kind in the country. It gathers visual artists from all over the Visayan region in a friendly, non-competitive assembly where they are given a venue for their work and the intellectual and artistic exposure required for the furthering of their craft.

It was Nov. 16, Sunday night as the 13th VIVA ExCon was holding its closing ceremonies at the Nature’s Village Resort in Talisay. The resort had served both as Conference Venue and hotel for the entire four-day event.

But now as the evening wore on, as the delegations paraded a series of cultural presentations, as the freshly roasted beef made its rounds, as the beers and the scotch and the tequilas cast its magical spells on everyone, the well-trimmed grounds of the resort seemed to resemble some kind of modern-day 21st century version of a Woodstock-lite, except that it was for visual artists.

There were groups in deep discussion about the latest trends in the art market, most were exhilarated dancing or cheering to the bands that played or the dances that were being performed.

Everywhere one looked one could see people from different provinces, different islands, clumped together in pockets of groups, talking, laughing, lying down on the soft grass.

It was then that I found myself standing apart from the main bulk of the crowd, some distance away - I was looking for that bottle of single-malt Scotch I think – it was then that I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of it all.

Here were hundreds of visual artists, many of them from unsophisticated Visayan towns, most of them had not known each other until four days ago, many of them young and just starting their artistic odysseys and there they were interacting with the likes of international visual artist superstar, the New York-based Paul Pfeiffer.

But more than anything, what gladdened my heart was this: how ironic that it was the Visayan region, composed of islands, some quite far apart from each other, and not Luzon nor Mindanao that consistently, constantly and consciously exerted major back-breaking endeavors in order to come together and share in their “common-ness” as artists.

Being there that night, one could strongly feel the sense of unity and comradeship that was in the air. It was almost something you could touch: their sense of being bonded together as Visayan artists; their respect and care for their common region; the sense that everyone was in this together and that they were collectively responsible for the development of the Visayan visual arts movement.* (to be continued)

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