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A Triumph For Visayas

Mariah Reodica - The Philippine Star
A Triumph For Visayas
The massive Civic Center was turned into a space filled with grand installations. Here, ’’D’Stryker: After Yolanda’’ by Diokno Pasilan and ’’Habal–habal’’ by Skylab.
Photo by KIKO NUÑEZ

The 15th VIVA EXCON proves it’s an integral paltfrom for Visayan art.

MANILA, Philippines — The Hiligaynon rap battle was in full swing. On a turtle-shaped stage flanked by stacked speakers, some of the Capiznon’s finest were freestyling in front of a packed crowd. Right across the stage was the Panay River that runs through the heart of Roxas, Capiz. I could only understand fragments of it: shots at the government and each other, along with certain slang that I had picked up over the few days I had been in the city — and I was still reeling from Budoy Kilat’s budots rendition of Psycho Killer by Talking Heads.

The duration of the 15th VIVA EXCON, or the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference, was a blur of performances, talks and wildly diverse and dynamic art by people across our archipelago. It’s also the longest-running biennial in the Philippines, taking place in different Visayan cities each time. This year, it was attended by over 400 artists, curators and attendees from Visayas, the rest of the Philippines, and abroad.

The expansive exhibition spanned the heart of Roxas City. The massive Civic Center housing a basketball court and a stage was turned into a space filled with grand installations. At one end was a massive skeleton of a salvaged fishing vessel housing suspended neon orange lifejackets, while a Santiago Bose sat on the barracks. There was a church depicted in soil on a massive installation of cloth stretched taut between bamboo poles, towering over the audience. Lining two of the court’s perimeter walls was an exhibit, “Dagat Kag Dagway (Seascapes and Horizons),” aligning dozens of paintings of the sea by Visayan artists according to their horizon. The nearby Ang Panubli-on Museum featured traditional-style work by artist-mentors from the Art Association of Capiz, the province’s longest-running art group, whose tutelage has helped Capiz flourish.

The show also spilled out onto the streets. Abút: Paseo Project, curated by Load na Dito and StreetKonect, took over a narrow alley lined with vendors, where Roxas street art and graffiti stood beside burger stalls and craft stores. On the facade of the Roxas City Hall, the submerged processioners of Martha Atienza’s video installation “Our Islands 11°16’58.4 N 123°45’07.0 E” illuminated the wide town plaza.

VIVA EXCON also premiered Kidlat Tahimik’s new film Lakaran ni Kabunyan, a narrative about Tahimik’s son Kabunyan de Guia on the road from Baguio, through Visayas and down to Samal.

VIVA EXCON in itself is an act of decentralization: not just of the western world, but of Manila as the center of the art practice in the Philippines. A pitfall of a number of exhibitions in Manila is to situate the capital as “world-class” or “international,” whereby the desire to catch the eye of the global art world overshadows nurturing our own backyard. While the conference had a considerable number of foreign attendees, what emerges is a sense of confidence that VIVA EXCON knows what it’s about, and who it’s for: Visayans, artists, and Visayan artists.

The region’s tradition is rich and runs back through generations, but certain predicaments are still undeniably tangible. Even late in the evenings after the parties, Visayan artists from emerging youth to veterans shared concerns such as access to the market, exhibition spaces and basic resources such as materials. Manila, cutthroat as it is, touts itself as a conduit to collectors and the rest of the art world, but how can one even breach the capital when geographic distance presents such a big obstacle? Then again, that’s assuming that Manila is the only path —which it isn’t.

On top of that, artists’ concerns extend beyond sustaining one’s practice. Peewee Roldan, this year’s artistic director, read out VIVA EXCON’s statement regarding the Sagay Massacre in Negros Occidental, declaring that artists “are not exempt from acting in response to injustice whenever it occurs.”

The solutions won’t take place overnight. However, the exchange of trajectories leads to possibilities not just for Visayan artists, but Filipino artists in similar circumstances of artmaking. The discussions resounded particularly with younger artists, who continuously form connections that extend over the whole archipelago, especially with their own initiatives in line with the convention’s spirit. VIVA EXCON, since its inception in 1990, has been an integral platform for Visayan art, and it’s more relevant than ever.

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VIVA EXCON Capiz 2018’s exhibition and programming runs until January 2019.

15TH VIVA EXCON

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