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Arts and Culture

The struggles of COVID depicted in art

THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau - The Philippine Star
The struggles of COVID depicted in art
Grand Awardee ‘‘Bungkag’’ by Kathleen Sareena D.C. Dagum

The 2021 Metrobank Art and Design Excellence program

While 2021 has largely been about rebuilding society after the tumultuous onslaught of COVID last year, the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) program of the Metrobank Foundation has been working on multiple tracks: aiding as many local artists as it can through its MADE Cares Program, while undertaking its bold and well-established MADE Exhibit program deferred last year, but now up online with live streaming and a virtual gallery exhibit accessible at www.madeartdepot.ph.

The MADE program reviewed 701 submissions from artists throughout the Philippines this year, giving the awardees a platform and recognition that will steer their future art careers and endeavors.

Three Grand Awardees — two in painting, one in sculpture — received a prize of P500,000, while five Special Citation awardees in painting and sculpture received P100,000.

Grand Awardee ‘‘Between Heaven and Earth’’ by Ariosto Dale Bagtas

The MADE awards streamed live on Thursday, Sept.16, with opening remarks from Metrobank Foundation president Aniceto “Chito” Sobrepeña, a deep dive into the judging process, and a profile of each artist awardee. It concluded with remarks (and a final toast) from Pangasinan Congressman Christopher de Venecia, who chairs the House Committee on Creativity and Performing Arts, on the vital importance of the “creative economy” in our society, noting that artists represent hundreds of thousands of jobs that were threatened by COVID, and must be protected for the financial future of our country.

As Sobrepeña noted, “Our theme — ‘Spectrum’ — is an ode to the infinite possibilities that can be imagined, aspired for and made, such as this virtual awarding ceremony.”

On a more material level, MADE launched a cash-assistance program, MADE Cares (short for MADE Community Aid and Relief for Emergency Situations), which benefited some 200 artists with P1 million in financial packages in the past year. He took note of MADE’s digital education platform #Madeathome on its Facebook page, as well as the push forward to build a “future Art Depot” that will house Filipino artist collections. “This year,” he concluded, “the resumption of our program is anchored on a defiant hope that we shall carry on.”

But perhaps the strongest display of resilience came from Filipino artists themselves, eight of whom were highlighted. They were Grand Awardees Aristo Dale Bagtas for his acrylic on canvas work, “Between Heaven and Earth”; Lymuel A. Bautista for his water media on Stonehenge paper piece titled “Haunting Wail of Chaos”; and Kathleen Sareena D.C. Dagum for her wooden sculpture “Bungkag.”

Special Citations were also given to Clark Manalo (for the painting “Uncensored Fallacy of Faith”), Mark Anthony Laza (painting “Binyag sa Landas-apoy”), Tyrone Dave E. Espinosa (sculpture “Nakakabinging Katahimikan”), Carlo de Laza (sculpture “Isang Pangarap ang Managinip”), and Crispo Mantiquilla (painting “Lucas 21:11”).

Grand Awardee ‘‘Haunting Wail of Chaos’’ by Lymuel A. Bautista

What was clear from the artist statements was that the struggles of COVID and its attendant feelings of loneliness, isolation, scarcity, even agony and torture, weighed heavily on everybody’s mind.  Every selected work — from the Biblical-influenced “Lucas 21:11” (depicting a hellish landscape straight from Rodin) to Bautista’s Goya-like dogfight painted on simulated corrugated steel, to the tortured sculptures of de Espinosa, de Laza, and Grand Awardee Dagum’s “Bungkag” (showing several faceless children on swings suspended from mid-air), to the isolated urban figures depicted by Laza and Manalo — seemed to reflect this heightened reality.

Yet there’s the detailed construction of Grand Awardee Bagtas’ “Between Heaven and Earth,” which also alludes to coronavirus, but our connection with nature and earth as well. It’s not hard to see the humanity striving behind these challenging images, and that is the uplifting effect.

The art jury was headed by celebrated sculptor Toym Imao and included artists and academics Mark Salvatus, Josephine Turalba, Daniel De La Cruz, Dindin Araneta and Rica Estrada. (Leo Abaya, artist and production designer for films like Jose Rizal and Muro Ami, passed away last May 26 and was given a memoriam citation during the ceremony.)

The jurors spoke of the challenges of judging the artworks, which were displayed under strictest COVID protocols for private viewing. Salvatus spoke of the importance of discussing the works between jurors. “It’s a deliberate, slow, caring way of judging.” Turalba noted she was looking for “works that were brave. It takes courage to create evocative works.” Araneta was looking for something new, something I hadn’t seen before.” The past year surely provided her with such visions.

In its 35-year history, since 1984, MADE has fulfilled one of the missions of late Metrobank founder and philanthropist Dr. George S.K. Ty, who once said, “Investing in our painters was one way of expressing my belief in Filipino talent and gifts. The businessman in me saw the investment side of buying good works. The other side was a way of giving back by supporting local artists.”

Special Citation winner ‘‘Nakakabinging Katahimikan’’by Tyrone Dave Espinosa

On a side note, as Metrobank celebrated its own 59th anniversary; it recently held a client-nurturing art event exclusive to its Ultra-High-Net-Worth (UHNW) clientele. MADE organized “A Meaningful Private Action by Metrobank,” with some 100 attendees purchasing 11 out of 13 available paintings on sale, raising another P500,000 in cash assistance for struggling Filipino artists. That event earned Metrobank a Bronze Stevie Award in the Corporate & Community-Customer Engagement Event category in the 18th Annual International Business Awards.

Imao, who headed the board of judges, quoted Bertolt Brecht in citing the importance of an artist’s voice in these times: “Brecht said, ‘There will be singing about the dark times. We have to sing about the victories. It’s a moral responsibility to respond to these times. Even in dark times, we’re heading to a brighter future.”

The MADE program was a chance for artists to sing, and have those songs heard.

Special Citation winner ‘‘Isang Pangarap ang Managinip’’ by Carlo P. De Laza
Special Citation winner ‘‘Binyag Sa Landas-apoy’’by Mark Anthony Laza
Special Citation winner ‘‘Uncensored Fallacy of Faith’’ by Clark Manalo
Special Citation winner ‘‘Lucas 21:11’’by Crispo D. Mantiquilla

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To get updates about the 2021 MADE activities, follow its official social media accounts on Facebook (@metrobankartanddesign) and Instagram (@metrobankartanddesign).

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