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Imagining a Philippines where the arts are given a chance to thrive

By Andrea Panaligan, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 26, 2024 5:00 am

We have to decolonize and decentralize creativity. Bring it to the regions.” This was the daring call of Christopher “Toff” de Venecia, Pangasinan’s fourth District Representative, at the opening of the Anakbanwa exhibit at Dagupan City.

The Anakbanwa Creative Residency Project, which de Venecia co-founded, draws its name from the precolonial Austronesian inhabitants who first established the province of Pangasinan. “Banwa” means homeland, territory, and its cosmos.

Since 2021, the residency has invited artists across all disciplines to live in PD4—the cool nickname of Pangasinan’s fourth district – and create site-specific work, with emphasis on the process as much as the outcome. In four weeks, artists get to explore the region’s heritage and landscapes, collaborate and exchange practices with local arts communities, hold workshops for public school students, and produce a public exhibit.

Anakbanwa artists with custom jeepney

“We have to stimulate our regional economies,” de Venecia continued. “The best way to regenerate cities is by putting creativity front and center.” True enough, art flows through every vein of the region’s culture. Manaoag Church, already home to surreal paintings, also showcases the intricate, often handmade clothing of Our Lady of Manaoag in a nearby museum. All four walls of San Fabian’s rural health unit are filled with colorful murals. Visitors from all over the country fill their luggage with various rattan goods from local craft makers.

Anakbanwa is a natural progression. It is built on the recognition that art, upon which provinces anchor their history, identity and tourism, does not come out of thin air. Homegrown talent must be honed at an institutional level.

Manaoag Church showcases surreal artworks and the intricate handmade clothing of Our Lady of Manaoag.

The five artists-in-residence—Alanis Avenilla, Dale Magsino, Russ Ligtas, Lala Monserrat, and Dagupan’s own Eduard Gabrillo—all grapple with their hometowns and personal histories through their disciplines. Easily apparent, even though I only got to meet them for an afternoon, are their ties to the community. Anakbanwa offered Pangasinan not as a refuge in which artists can craft away in peace and quiet, but as an ecosystem in both the natural and communal sense. To be an Anakbanwa artist, or to simply be in touch with the artists in PD4, is to recognize that art made in a vacuum is no art at all.

Local crafts are championed, like these rattan pieces.

But most memorable for me was the exhibit of Pandaragupan Arts Camp alumni, a group of young creatives with such fully realized artistic lives. The arts camp is an offshoot of Anakbanwa in collaboration with Linangan Art Residency and Youth for Pangasinan Heritage, some of its participants being as young as 15. “‘Dapat alam mo kung sino ka.’ ‘Yan ang tinuturo namin sa mga bata,” says Youth for Pangasinan heritage president Nicanor Germono Jr. “‘Wag (nilang) mawawala ang identity as a Pangasinense. Para when they grow as artists, may panghuhugutan sila.”

Exhibit of Pandaragupan Arts Camp alumni

It was this specificity that stuck with me the most, even after I trekked back to Manila. I was inspecting a shirt I bought from local streetwear brand Soon Clothing and saw “From the land of the milkfish” embroidered on the underside of a tag—who would immediately notice this, who goes around flipping the tags of their shirts? It felt emblematic of the kind of care that runs through the culture of PD4. Everything feels intentional. It was so energizing to be part of something that actively encourages artistic expression.

Germono Jr. adds that part of the reason behind the creation of Pandaragupan Arts Camp was fostering the next generation of Anakbanwa creatives-in-residence. It sounds like a utopia to so many Filipinos forced to whittle down their artistic dreams for the country’s relatively practical culture. But PD4 is real, it’s making waves, and it shouldn’t be alone in advocating for cultural workers and the arts sector.

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Get updates on PD4’s tourism initiatives on Instagram and the Anakbanwa Residency at