Painting exhibit highlights artistic side of Filipinos in Canada
RED DEER, Alberta – An exhibit featuring the paintings of two Filipino artists not only offers memories of home, it also proves Filipinos’ world-class artistry.
The “Alaala (Memories)” exhibit, launched on Sept. 23 in the Jose Rizal Hall at the Philippine Consulate in Calgary, breathes with the artists’ (and the viewers’) memories of home, with social issues subtly underpinned in the art pieces.
It is open to the public until Oct. 19 and features some 20 artworks by artists Pepito Escanlar and Patrick Fernandez, who are both esteemed artists in Saskatchewan, a province in western Canada.
Enriching cultural diversity
The duo’s paintings are recollections of their experiences that became a vital part of their growth. Both artists have followed different paths and differing artistic perspectives. Nonetheless, Alaala is a cohesive theme of colorful and vibrant memories of what they call home,” states Consul General Zaldy Patron in a release.
The month-long event is PCG’s newest cultural diplomacy project to “raise the profile of the Filipinos in Alberta and Saskatchewan”. The two provinces are under PCG’s consular jurisdiction.
“While Filipinos are known to be sought-after workers and professionals as well as successful and aspiring entrepreneurs in these two provinces, ALAALA will highlight that we are artists, too, and that we enrich Canada’s cultural diversity,” Patron told INQUIRER.net.
“It is also our intention to help our artists in Saskatchewan be exposed and connected to the larger Filipino population here in Calgary,” he added.
Growing up in Guimbal, Iloilo, a province in central Philippines, Escanlar lived next to the town public market where many of his childhood friends were neighbors whose parents were vendors.
“Having lived in Canada for 47 years, I longingly look back to my hometown and my younger days there,” said Escanlar, who left the Philippines when he was 24 years old.
One particular painting entitled “Flower Vendor” shows a vendor selling flowers bunched in a recycled can of a popular brand of crackers and biscuits. “Many enthusiastically shared that seeing it brought back their own happy childhood memories,” said Escanlar.
“Flower Vendor” gives a glimpse of the other side of market life, showing the years of struggle on the face of the elderly vendor as she is poignantly surrounded by the blooms that she sells, explained Escanlar. The piece also shows the vendor trying to conceal that she is eating a piece of bread, to alleviate hunger.
Escanlar revealed that the vendor’s daughter found the painting online after he posted a photo on Facebook. “She expressed her appreciation for the theme of the painting and revealed that the flower vendor is actually her mother. On later correspondence with her, I am pleased to learn that her mother, the flower vendor, was able to send her to college, and she now has a degree in Law,” he said.
Two other pieces “Talipapa” and “Ukay-ukay” also depict familiar market scenes that resonated with the viewers. Escanlar draws inspiration from Philippine festivals portrayed in “Dinagyang,” and “Paraw Regatta” and expressions of Filipino values in his pieces, “Bayanihan,” “Mano Po” and “Alab ng Lahi”.
He said his journey as a Filipino immigrant was depicted in his early pieces, symbolized in bridges to show crossing from one side to the other. He started using watercolor as medium in the 1980s, often joining the annual SakArt art competition and winning awards.
Escanlar was appointed Philippine Honorary Consul for Regina early this year, after retiring as an architect for 41 years. He said he his retirement was an attempt to spend more time painting.
His plan includes putting up an art exhibit in the Philippines, maybe in his home province of Iloilo. “In the meantime, I will continue to paint Philippine themes that could be used to promote our heritage and culture during cultural festivals in Canada,” he said.
Starting a new life in a foreign country and making it home is the centerpiece of some of the artworks by Pangasinense painter Patrick Fernandez, an emerging contemporary artist in Regina, also in Saskatchewan.
The Dagupan-born artist uses different patterns and layers of paints that represent his experiences, overlapping and interwoven to create one whole masterpiece.
Two of his artworks, “Sa Pagitan ng mga Pangarap (In Between Dreams)” and “Pangako (Promise)” illustrate a couple with intertwined heads and one body, giving emphasis on the journey of couples beginning a new life in another country.
The former relates how a family begins with big hopes and dreams for a better future, and the latter shows the commitment to hold on to the promise of reunification to start a new life.
“Most of my works are inspired by personal experiences and commentaries on current issues. I used these experiences to create stories using symbols, patterns and reimagined folklores,” he told INQUIRER.net.
“I believe as an artist I have a mandate to let the world see from a different perspective and as a cultural worker, to be able to represent the Filipino artistry here in Canada and to the world,” he added.
Fernandez currently works in the print industry and plans on becoming a full-time artist again. Before he came to Canada in 2017, he had exhibited in the Philippines and Asia. Since coming to Regina, he has had two solo exhibitions entitled “Home” in September 2018, and “Luntian (Green)” in 2020.
Fernandez is working on his first major public art exhibition in December at the Allie Griffin Art Gallery in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, highlighting migration as a theme.
“Most of my works since coming to Canada have dealt with this theme. I guess it made a big impact on me personally and on my art practice,” he said. He encourages fellow Filipino visual artists in Canada to not forget their roots and to push their limits to showcase their craft.