There’s something important being made in the quiet, idyllic corners away from Metro Manila: artists with roots from all over the Philippines are gathering to paint and talk about art and life.
These meetings are made possible by Agos Studio which is led by social realist painter Renato Habulan and daughter Mayumi Habulan.
At the heart of the Art Caravan, as the project is dubbed, is the vision of inclusivity: it serves as a platform for interaction between artists, art advocates and the people in the places they visit.
Habulan encourages artists to leave the confines of their studio and experience the joy of being outdoors. They spend a day or two in a casual space where they can create, talk, cook, and dine together.
Looking at its design, this project can be seen as a form of socially engaged art. This art form, also known as social practice, involves people as the medium or material of the work.
The output of these projects are not always tangible, as many traditional thinkers would find unsettling. Rather, the participation of people is considered the most important, and what artists “make” can range from ideas, talks and debates to collaborations or social interactions.
Here, Agos studio aptly works with the community it knows best: they bring artists to different localities and facilitate plein air painting sessions and conversations about the Philippine art scene.
The first iteration of the art caravan was hosted by artists Joy Mallari, Alice Mallari and Mark Justiniani in their space in the mountainous landscape of Tanay, Rizal.
Over a kamayan lunch, the artists talked about art during the 1980s and how its purpose in society evolved drastically over the decades. After a plein air painting session, the day ended with an impromptu portfolio critiquing session with the senior artists.
In the evening of the session hosted by Don Bryan Bunag of the Bulacan group of artists in Doña Remedios Trinidad, a mini-conference was held wherein the artists shared their experiences in the art world.
Alexis Marga shared practical advice about making CVs, portfolios, exhibit proposals and artist bios; Jessa Balag described her struggles and strategies in balancing her duties as a mother, wife, breadwinner and an artist. The artists also talked about pressing issues that they have been experiencing and how they’ve navigated these challenges. To cap it off, Habulan shared his thoughts on the controversial topics of career and market.
Habulan considers these past meetings as the start of a long series of trips that will cover Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Future plans for the caravan include also partnering with artists of different artforms to enrich each other’s practices.
In the thick of our worries around the threats of artificial intelligence, we can find comfort in the fact that the sense of community that this art caravan creates is one of the things that cannot be easily replicated.
Efforts like these move the art scene in a slow but powerful way. Decades from now, art historians who wonder about the progress of Philippine art might trace the flow of ideas and find their way to these exchanges that happened in these quiet, idyllic corners away from Manila.
Ortigas Art Festival
The plein air paintings from the Art Caravan sessions are currently on display in the East Wing of Estancia Mall, Capitol Commons. Shown during the opening is a video documentation that is also available on Agos studio’s social media pages.
Curated along with these are a workshops, activities, and works by artist groups and institutions: Kabugtuan group, Pangasinan and Bulacan Artists, Odangputik Pottery, Davao Artists, Linangan Art Residency, Aroma Art Atelier, Daluyong Artists Network, Outdoor archivists, University of Asia and the Pacific, Pasig Art Club and Film Development Council of the Philippines.
The Ortigas Art Festival runs from July 12 to Aug. 13, 2023.