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'Sandman' in a barong, 'Death' in a saya: This artist highlights PH culture in her drawings

By Kara Santos Published Aug 15, 2022 5:44 pm

Ever wondered what Dream, Death and the rest of the Endless siblings would look like as Pinoy characters in a children's book? 

With Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman currently topping the charts on Netflix, Filipina artist Jme Foronda, recently reshared illustrations she made of the characters in traditional Filipiniana attire.

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A post shared by Art of Jme Foronda (@jmepaints)

Dream and Death wear the traditional baro't saya and barong tagalog in their signature goth colors with Death's ankh necklace and Dream's ruby serving as accessories. 

Desire sports a modern Filipiniana style bolero jacket with butterfly sleeves, while Despair is adorned with traditional batok style tattoos and fish hook sigil ring.

Delirium wears a multi-colored saya and alampay with literal butterfly sleeves swirling about while Destruction wearing camisa de chino and carrying a fighting cock (aptly named Espada or sword). Destiny, the oldest of the Endless, uses a salakot to hide his eyes and carries a dusty book bound by a chain. 

The artwork, originally made in 2020 in celebration of Buwan ng Wika, are just a few of adorable illustrations made by Jme (pronounced Jaime/Jay-me) Foronda, a Filipina illustrator and mixed media artist who draws inspiration mainly from her collection of children’s books, art books, graphic novels, and Filipiniana books with art.

In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, the 30-something mom of two says she's been a long-time fan of The Sandman comics and even had chance to meet author Neil Gaiman during his first visit to the Philippines.

“My mentor at the time recommended the series and I've been a fan of The Sandman since I read them in 2001. Been a fan of Neil Gaiman since then, and a small claim to fame is I've had dinner with Mr. Gaiman during his first visit to the Philippines in 2005 (and yes, I do have a photo with him! Hoping to meet him again and have it signed)” she shared.

Artist with Neil Gaiman in 2005.

Of the recent adaptation, the artist said: "Loved it. It stayed true to the spirit of the graphic novels. Not surprising, since Mr. Gaiman worked closely with the production. Any changes would have his blessing. Cast was *chef's kiss*, especially The Corinthian, Fiddler's Green, Death, Desire, and Rose Walker."

While she was born and raised in Manila and took up a BFA in Visual Communications from UP Diliman, Foronda is now based in the Washington state with her husband and two kids. In her bio, she describes herself as an "illustrator of fantastical things and Filipino culture" and her IG page features characters from Pinoy comic book lore like Darna, Trese and ZsaZsa Zaturnnah in cute tiny cartoon form.

The artist shared that she's dabbled in a lot of art styles over the years from realistic oils and acrylics, to abstract watercolors, comic book style, anime and experimental animation. She also worked in game dev for a bit, and has done flash animation for educational games, and work as an in-house corporate graphic designer. 

Illustrating Indigenous Philippine Attire

Her most recent project, which has made the rounds on social media, is the book Pananamit: Indigenous Philippine Attire, a primer on the traditional attire of 15 Indigenous Groups from different areas in the Philippine archipelago, all researched and digitally illustrated with intricate details.

The infographic style book project came about so she could create the book she wanted to read.

"In 2015, I painted a poster with several PH indigenous groups featured and posted it on my social media. Around the end of 2020, a social media group found it and reposted it (without my knowledge) and by the time I discovered the post, it already had a number of negative comments on it - from my use of the word 'tribal' and painting the wrong attire, etc. Which I acknowledge, btw. I basically Googled and picked the first few images as reference without digging deeper. Mea culpa," she told PhilSTAR L!fe.

"Anyway, the negative comments made me say 'Nope! I can do better than this!' Initially, I just wanted to do an update of the poster, with attire accurately depicted. But with the amout of info I ended up with, I decided might as well go all the way, collect the art and information in a book and make it accessible to everyone. That’ll show them. So, I guess what I’m saying is spite is a great motivator," she added.

Since there are more than 100 indigenous groups all over the Philippines, Foronda chose to narrow down her illustrations and pick only 15 based on the available materials. The almost year-long Pananamit project was completed during the pandemic with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.

"I made a list of indigenous groups in the Philippines, did research on them, and picked 15 which had the most acessible/available information. Most of the information came from published books, some information came from articles online, which I verified with culture bearers I was able to make contact with online. My dad (one of the project’s biggest - if not THE biggest supporter) even managed to get NCIP's 3 volume Epanaw cofee table books for me. A full list of books and sources are included in the book," she said.

She initially launched the Pananamit bundle in the U.S., which includes a hardcover book, a postcard set of 15 cards, Indigenous Mother and Child 9 print set, and the Pananamit Sticker Sheet. The project was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews leading to books being currently sold out as of this writing. 

"The book has been available in the US for some time now, and I've had very good feedback from Filipinos and most especially Fil-Am parents who came from indigenous groups featured in the book - the book, they say, is a very good starting point to introduce their children to the culture they came from," she said.

Aside from the printed edition, the project is also available as an ebook and a postcard book. Free printable resources on the artist's site include coloring pages of the Philippine national costumes and paper dolls of IP women and their traditional attire.

The artist's other work for sale include a mini zine of collected Tiny Indigenous Women artwork, with information on the tribes plus a Katutu-Bulilit Sticker pack of 12 and sitcker bundles. 

"I've had a lot of requests for use in classroom. My answer will always be: For educational purposes, use in lessons, classroom posters, etc…. go right ahead and print. The information is free for everyone," she added.

According to the artist, a second print run of the book is coming to both U.S. and Manila arriving sometime this August 2022 in time to mark History Month.

Pinoy buyers can follow the artist on social media to get the Shopee link: @jmepaints on Instagram and The Art of Jme Foronda on Facebook.