PAINTINGS WITH POEMS. Local artists feature their painting masterpieces in a week-long exhibit in a mall in Chinatown, Manila from Aug. 1 to 5, 2022. The paintings, depicted by poems, were part of the celebration of National Language Month to showcase the talents of local artists. (PNA photo)

MANILA – Highlighting the Philippines' rich culture and talent has been always fulfilling for artists and the appreciative local audience and Filipino supporters abroad.

But the challenges brought by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic to the art industry have been undoubtedly detrimental to local artists, considering that spaces that usually provide them exposure, opportunities, and income, suddenly became scarce.

Yet there were those like 49-year-old painter Arnold Estrella who remain undaunted and not only pushed through with his craft but also supported fellow artists.

Together with his friend Sam Chua of BrushWorx PH, Estrella decided to take advantage of the National Language Month to freely showcase local artists’ talent not just in painting, but also in interpreting their masterpieces through poems, by putting up Voila!, a week-long exhibit featuring artworks from diverse places, ages, and gender, all highlighting #ProudToBePinoy concepts.

“Ang aim namin is para matulungan ang artist to promote them, sa pamamagitan ng ganitong klaseng event… kasi maraming Pinoy artists na magaling, ang nandito halo-halo, may mga beterano, may baguhan, at may mga artist na tulog, na dekada nang di nagpipinta, nakapagpinta sila ngayon, ‘yun ang ano namin, mai-boost sila (Our aim is to help artists, to promote them, through this event… because we have many great Filipino artists, we’re all here, the veterans, newbies, and dormant artists who have not painted for over a decade have painted now! That’s our aim, to boost them.),” he told the Philippine News Agency.

Arnold Estrella, 49, one of the people behind the Buwan ng Wika painting exhibit shows his amazing artwork of Koi fish

Estrella said it was truly hard being an artist, especially during the lockdown period. However, he said it is important for artists not to lose hope nor give up their passion.

“May mga source of income ako na hindi talaga ako kumikita, pero after nung August 2020, nung medyo lumuluwag, medyo nakakabenta ako ng painting, online, ang laki niya ng tulong, unang-una hindi ako nakakuha ng SAP (Social Amelioration Program), pero sabi ko ang Lord na ang bahala, so ang Lord na ang nag-provide, mula July hanggang ano, dire-diretso nakabenta ako ng paintings, kaya dama ko rin ‘yung ano ng mga artist, alam ko, nararamdaman ko yung feelings nila, ‘yung frustrations (I have sources of income but less than enough. But after August 2020, with the gradual easing [of lockdown], I was able to sell some paintings online. and it’s really a huge help. First, I wasn’t able to receive assistance from the SAP [Social Amelioration Program], but at that time I just entrusted it to the Lord. And the Lord did provide. Since July (2021), I started to regularly sell my paintings. So I really know the sentiment and frustrations of my fellow artists),” he said.

No gender, age

The exhibit was indeed helpful for various local artists, like Bulacan resident Rowena Loncop, 31, who had worked as a factory worker before the pandemic.

She said the exhibit's theme encouraged her to accomplish her “Ang Aking Sinilangan” (My Motherland) piece, inspired by the rich Filipino culture, and featured diverse tribal-colored ropes embossed on the side, a pre-colonial designed "balangay" (wooden boat), and an eagle - which she said symbolize the journey of a diverse yet courageous race of Filipinos as they sail as one nation. 

Rowena Loncop, 31, shares her stunning painting "Ang aking sinilangan," which she has worked on for a month

“Noong nagkaroon na ng lockdown, mas doon ako nagkaroon ng mahabang oras, tapos ang nag-inspire talaga sa akin ‘yung mga frontliners, tsaka kahit iba-iba ‘yung mga paniniwala natin, tayong mga Pilipino, pero pagdating sa mga kagipitan, mga sakuna, nagkakaisa talaga tayo (When the lockdown came, I had more time and was truly inspired by our frontliners. That even though we share different beliefs, we Filipinos, in times of crisis, and disaster, are truly united.),” she said.

Now that she has given up her work at the factory to try the freelance painting industry, she can’t help but encourage younger girls and other women to pursue their passion for the arts.

“Wala sa kasarian ‘yan e, hindi po talaga ako nakapag-aral sa fine arts, para sa akin po pinasasalamatan ko pa rin dahil nga kahit katulad ko, laking-hirap po talaga ako, babae po ako, ang lagi ninyong tatandaan ‘yung talent na ‘yan is a gift, walang kasarian po ‘yan, kahit gaano ka pa husgahan na walang mararating, huwag mong ititigil dahil masaya ka (Arts is not gender-based, I did not study fine arts, but still grateful that, even though I came from a poor family, and a woman, we should always remember that this talent is a gift, gender has nothing to do with it. Even if somebody discourages us that we will not attain anything, do not stop because you’re happy with it),” she added.

Meanwhile, 62-year-old Chito Mendoza, a new artist who has just discovered his painting talents during the pandemic, also shared his own concept for the Buwan ng Wika celebration. 

Chito Mendoza (in the middle), 62, joins Sam Chua (left) and Arnold Estrella (right), the men beyond the local art exhibit for the Buwan ng Wika, with his artwork on top of the collage

Mendoza said a friend who was also a participant in the exhibit encouraged him to join.

His artwork, placed in the center of the exhibit, was no less than eye-catching, giving an expressionism vibe, done through action painting.

Observing generations, he noted that his idea revolved around the preservation of nature, which in the Philippine setting is a stunning and abundant resource.

“Kahit anong gulo ng ikot ng buhay basta wag pakialaman ang natural environment ay may pag-asa pa din sa masagana at matahimik na buhay (However absurd this life may be, as long as the natural environment would not be [exploited], then there’s still hope for a prosperous and peaceful life.),” he said.

Estrella said he never thought twice about giving his fellow artists a platform like Voila! to share their works and opinions, even as he urged the government to help local artists even more by providing them with spaces that would open opportunities for their works to find their “soulmates.”

“Gumawa sila ng program na mae-expose ang Filipino artists, and then mag-conduct sila ng isang training, workshop, o symposium ang mga artist para ma-boost sila, para lalo sila ma-inspire, para ‘di sila ma-frustrate, ma-discourage, ‘yung mga wala pa, mga baguhan, dapat ‘yun naman ‘yung pagtuunan nila ng pansin (The government must provide programs for the Filipino artists to get exposure -- conduct trainings, workshops, or symposium for artists to be boosted, for them to be more inspired, not frustrated nor discouraged -- the newbies, the neophytes should be given more attention.),” he said.

Estrella said artists must continue pursuing and honing their skills no matter the circumstances, even with a global pandemic.

“Magpatuloy lang sila, kasi ang artwork, kapag natagpuan ng artwork ‘yung kanyang soulmate, dun, benta kaagad ‘yan. So, tiyaga lang, konting ano lang timpi lang, darating at darating ‘yung oras na, ang isang artist e kanya e, magpatuloy lang sila, huwag silang manawa, kung anong passion mo, ituloy mo (They should continue, because their artwork, once found by its soulmate [buyer], will surely be bought. So, just be diligent, a bit patient, there will come a time, that the artist will have his/her own break. Just continue, don’t give up, whatever your passion may be, just pursue it.),” he said. (PNA)