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Curating hope in challenging times |


Curating hope in challenging times

Anna Isabel C. Sobrepeña - The Philippine Star
Curating hope in challenging times
Grand Awardee Abril Valdemoro for“Last Trip” by Abril Valdemoro

Winning works of the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence 2023

MANILA, Philippines — It was the first time that winning works of the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) competition were being exhibited alongside previously awarded paintings and sculptures. This was also the first time that the long-running, nationwide art contest was presenting at the new address of the Metropolitan Museum in Bonifacio Global City. There was a generally good feeling walking into the art space after COVID had reduced the annual art event to an online awarding and exhibition over the last two years. 

Almost four decades ago, Dr. George S. K. Ty opened the conversation for artists to speak to the public at large through their brush strokes and molded forms. The creative ferment of young painters and sculptors found a venue to express their perception and pain, and sometimes hope, in their milieu. That engagement continues with a new batch of talented visual artists telling their stories.

With the theme “Connect: Stronger Ties, Bolder Strides,” this year’s competition invited young artists nationwide to embark on daring creative and collaborative journeys. Out of 402 entries received this year, seven up-and-coming Filipino painters and sculptors were named as this year’s awardees by the Board of Judges.

Two Grand Awardees for the Painting Recognition Program each received P350,000 worth of cash incentives. A P150,000 scholarship at the Linangan Art Residency was also given as part of MBFI’s support for their artistic development. Another three artists for the Painting Recognition Program bagged the Special Citation with a P100,000 cash prize each.

One Grand Awardee for the Sculpture Recognition Program was awarded P500,000 in cash incentive. Another artist was also awarded with a Special Citation, receiving a P100,000 cash incentive. All of them received the “More” Trophy designed by 2007 Metrobank Foundation Prize for Achievement in Sculpture (MPAS) awardee Juan Sajid Imao.

“Grand Awardee (Oil or Acrylic on Canvas Category) Jowee AguinaldoPuro Kahig, Walang Matuka” by Jowee Aguinaldo

2023 MADE Board of Judges chairman Sandra Palomar says the competition provides an avenue to make strategic links: “Nurturing the excellence of young artists is also allowing them to make exchanges with the bigger art scene.” Visual artist Raffy T. Napay, a former Metrobank winner himself and now one of this year’s judges, affirms: “Once sumali ka sa MADE, endless ang connection. Tapos isinasali ka rin sa programs, sa community.” Together on the board of judges is Mindanao-based visual artist and sculptor Kublai Millan who says as much. “MADE has identified our talented young artists. Creativity can really make a difference in their lives. I think art in the Philippines can really make a difference if we just come together and put our talents together and be good partners.”

Search for authenticity and vision

The task of selecting the winners was done by a panel of seven, all reputable persons in the field of art. Besides Sandra Palomar, Kublai Millan and Raffy T. Napay, the other members were co-chair Maris Holopainen, founder of Oube Gallery; painter Golda King; sculptor Richard Buxani; and Dr. Laya Boquiren-Gonzales, heritage specialist and educator.

“Our considerations were skill and an understanding of their medium, and also their language — if they had found their voice,” says Palomar. Golda King adds, “Clarity, intention and honesty. It’s when a painter reveals himself or herself in their pieces. There’s a lot of layers.”

Beyond the qualities of the artwork, Dr. Boquiren-Gonzales looked further. “The winners were not selected only for their skills but for the artistic vision they wanted to contribute to the landscape of Philippine art.”

Grand Awardee (Watermedia on Paper Category) Jerome Santos “ha(PAG PAG)kaing pinagkainan” by Jerome Santos

A synergy galvanizes the different members of the art community, invigorating a dynamism emanating from each one’s contributions. The jurors in attendance from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao added their particulars for a lively and respectful discourse during the deliberations. “Narrowing down the qualifiers was difficult for all of us,” Richard Buxani says. “Among ourselves were visual artists in painting and sculpture, members of the academe, a curator, an author, a historian. All have their own experiences which they  brought to the discussion. All of these came to play in choosing the winners.”

Gallery owner Holopainen had a long-term view in making her selection: “A focus on original work of young artists and the sustainability of their career.” She believes “galleries should give opportunities to these young artists to show as part of their program.” 

Recognizing and awarding emerging artists is a jumpstart to their creative development that should be enhanced by continuous interacting and engagement with different art entities. “We have to experiment by ourselves and we hope, in the future, senior artists can also pass on those techniques to the younger generation,” Buxani says.

King makes it personal. “My purpose as an artist is to be able to help other artists have the same freedom that I’ve had throughout the years.” This resonates as well with Boquiren-Gonzales: “My own contribution is through artistic education.” Ultimately, it is the response of the artist that determines their course. “We encourage young artists to go out there, immerse, to know more about their subject and the soul of their subject,” Kublai says. “Makakatulong ang pagiging artist para makapagtouch din ng ibang puso ng artist,” Napay adds.

The grand prize winners

Jowee Anne Aguinaldo says she discovered the importance of story-telling through the visual arts. “Art can convey yung message sa viewers at makapagbigay ng emotions na hindi kayang idescribe ng words,” she says.  “As an artist I draw inspiration sa society at sa mga issues na kinakaharap nito.” When she was a student at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, she spent four years working closely with farmers and got to know firsthand the issues and realities that they were up against. 

Her Grand Prize-winning work “Puro Kahig, Walang Matuka” depicts farmers bent forward and hunched together, forming the likeness of a table with empty plates on their backs. They are surrounded by people with spoons in their hands or on their stomachs, an indication of hunger. The meaning of  this Grand Awardee in the oil/acrylic on canvas is expressed in her artist statement: “This artwork is about how the farmers feed our nation, but struggle to feed their own families. Farming is a noble profession but it is often associated with poverty.”

Grand Awardee in the Watermedia on Paper category Jerome Santos also makes a visually skillful narrative of scavenging that is not unfamiliar in the urban landscape. He creates with that Filipino sense of making light of deeply troubling realities facing the marginalized who forage through the rubbish for their sustenance. His artist statement adds to the impact of his painting’s meaning: “Umaasang manulat ang mga mata at isipan magkaroon ng kamalayan na mayroon tayong mga kababayang dumaranas na lalong lumalalang kahirapan. Pag-asa na dumaranas ng lumalalang kahirapan. Pag-asa na makaraos sa pagkaing pinagkainan na ng iba.”

Santos’ “ha(PAG PAG) kaing pinagkainan” invites a deeper look and possibly evokes a response to society’s sometimes mindless and excessive consumption with little regard for the wastage that is food for the hungry. “Pagpag” refers to the flicking off of dirt — and in this scenario, to food retrieved from the wastebins.

The sculpture category grand awardee Abril Dominic Valdemoro’s “Last Trip” draws attention to another denizen of the city streets. His figure, molded from marine epoxy resin, metal, wood, acrylic paint and stickers, is a tribute to jeepney drivers. His artist statement honors the public transporter whose occupation enables commuters to get to their destinations, feed their families and contribute to economic movement as workers are transported to their place of work.

Special citations

Noteworthy contenders for the top awards were given citations for their entries. Sculptor Michael Art de Leon’s “Mundong Pinagisa sa Tubig” was a visually arresting and skillfully balanced figure surrounded by the life force of water.  The watercolor on paper of Zarlen Delgado’s “Some Threads are Made of Flesh and Blood” was another deeply personal story of her evolution as a designer from generations of seamstresses. It is this recognition of the nurturing of the “Prima Custos” or first guardians that Dexter Cinco also  paints in his canvas with oil/acrylic. Both pay homage to the elders who cared for them.

While the themes of some of the works may weigh heavy on the heart, Jonas Miguel Arlegui’s “Pagitan” shifts the focus overhead. His oil/acrylic on canvas invites hope as he paints a view that looks from the ground up. The pathos and challenges dominant in other works, albeit rendered with wit and a modicum of jocularity, is not diminished but, when taken from this upward perspective, adds resilience, adaptability and perseverance to the experience. There’s an intimate call to action as these young artists use their skills to express a concern for the pain around us, all the while still believing something can be done. And that is a message of hope that they are gifting to us all.

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