Three Filipinas in Calgary prove art is ageless, irresistible | Inquirer

Three Filipinas in Calgary prove art is ageless, irresistible

Filipina artists Eva Villanueva, Josie Pagado and Desiree Caluza at the “Rhythm of Art” exhibit in Calgary, Alberta. INQUIRER/Jhong dela Cruz


CALGARY, Alberta – Art is the subject that binds three Filipinas in Calgary who recently mounted an exhibition portraying ageless themes such as virtues, nature, joy and meditation.

Entitled “Rhythm of Art” Eva, Josie and Desiree’s paintings wowed the visitors on October 21 at Capitol Hill Community Centre in Calgary.

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The three immigrants from the Philippines came together at different points in their lives when the craving for art became inescapable.

Bright future

Eva Villanueva has been working as a floral designer in Calgary for over28 years. Back in the Philippines, her involvement in art started in the 1970s.


Watercolor painter Josie Pagado with one of her favorite pieces, “Happiness Is a Hundred Little Miss Sunshines” INQUIRER/Jhong dela Cruz

The fine arts interior design graduate was active in the art scene in the Philippine summer capital Baguio City before she decided to raise her family as a fulltime mother.

She decided to emigrate to Canada in 1989 to give her children a brighter future.

The single mom who has two children likes to share her happy mood in her artwork, mainly through mixed media “All of my pieces I shared the joy that I have playing with colors and nature,” she said.


Villanueva’s pieces reflect her happy mood, which intermingle with pieces of nature. “I enjoy sharing things that I am interested in like the Gingko leaves, Japanese calligraphy and other objects that are interesting to me,” she said.

Villanueva worked at a gallery while she was a college student, selling artworks by masters such as Fernando Amorsolo, Philippines’ world renowned painter. In 1975, she won third place in the knock down competition in furniture design at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Writer-on-leave Desiree Caluza remains connected with art after emigrating to Calgary, Canada. INQUIRER/Jhong dela Cruz

She joined a group exhibition in May 2017 in Calgary called “Assembly” following a successful attempt to revive her practice through art lessons.


“When I was a child, I remember that I had good handwriting and I tended to draw a lot,” recalled Josie Pagado, a “very determined painter” as described by her mentor.

The inkling led her  to other art forms like literature and cinema.  Once, she took a few art lessons from Fernando Sena, the Philippine’s “Father of Art Workshop.” Pagado did not continue because of the commute as she had to take her then five- year-old in tow.

Pagado moved to Canada in 2009 with her family to live a better life.

“When we came here I was determined to find an art teacher that would be to my liking, meaning I have to like her portfolio,” she added. She attended art classes in 2014, including an online class which her son gifted to her.

Eva Villanueva revived her love of art after a few decades. INQUIRER/Jhong dela Cruz

“I learned to do detailing and layering,” taking advantage of the 40 study pieces and the books she bought from her online teacher.

Using watercolor, she started painting photos of her friends and also pictures from Pinterest.

Women artists

Before starting a new life in Canada, Desiree Caluza was actively writing for Philippine Daily Inquirer’s northern bureau. Caluza also linked up with non-profit and independent media outfit Vera Files.

Despite being a busy journalist, Caluza, or “Day” to her acquaintances, had an affinity for art. Her roots as a University of the Philippines alumna exposed her to the works of Lapian ng mga Interesado sa Sining or LAPIS (League of People Interested in the Arts). She eventually debuted as a painter as a member of the group while finishing her degree in mass communication at the university.

In 1995, Caluza’s first exhibit was at a music and fashion show concert that featured various paintings on shirts as canvases.“That show created quite a stir internally because the women artists were not recognized at the end of the show,” she said of the event, even though the women’s movement was becoming more visible at the time.

Hence, “BAG Ladies: Rites of Passage,” led by women artists and writers was significant for women like her. This 2001 exhibit in Baguio City, aimed to encourage the city’s women artists to organize and make their voices heard in the community.

Caluza later joined over 100 visual and literary artists at the “Chromatext Rebooted” exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2015.


“Rhythm of Art” showcased works of non-professional artists and students, giving them the opportunity to share their work, said Pagado.

“We wanted our guests to hear our stories and find the spark of the artist in them,” she added. Pagado helped organize the exhibit with M.I.L.K. & Ambrosia Celebrations, her son’s event planning business.

Her pieces spoke of common themes – virtues of nobility and dignity, peace, faith, simplicity, resiliency and happiness.

In her painting entitled “Consider the lilies of the field how they grow,” Pagado’s inspiration was a former co-worker at the Department of Energy who was a cancer survivor.

Two other paintings stood out to become Josie’s favorite. A piece showing Agapanthus(African lily) flowers swaying in the wind reflects Pagado’s deep faith. “I cannot simply go against God’s plan. No matter how I look at the situation. God’s plan is always for my best.”

Her second favorite is “Happiness Is a Hundred Little Miss Sunshines,” featuring orchids. “It is second on my list because of the hours, the effort and determination I spent to get it done,” she said.


Caluza’s pieces aptly fit the essence of meditation – joy and inner peace.

“A group of friends who practice Zen meditation in my birth country, the Philippines, always maintained that there is meditation in everything that we do aside from observing our deep quiet time,” she said.

Desiree Caluza’s artwork in mixed media featuring joy and inner peace in everyday activities, such as eating. CONTRIBUTED

Caluza’s five pieces show there are opportunities for meditation in activities that are considered mundane and routine.

“But what we are not aware of is that these seemingly everyday exercises are always meditative in nature – these everyday moments can bring us joy and inner peace,” she said.

She particularly liked the piece about meditation on eating. “Aside from breathing, it is our direct connection to life and living. We may not derive any happiness or satisfaction from other activities immediately, but in eating, there is instant gratification,” she said.

“When we are full and satisfied, we are able to view life with a fresh perspective every time,” she added.

Adding some political spice to this, Caluza believes that food should always be accessible to everyone, saying there should be no injustice when it comes to food.

“Expect a person to meditate on revolution when hunger becomes prevalent in a society. This is the kind of meditation that is also necessary; it’s an act of compassion,” she said.

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TAGS: art exhibit, Filipino painters, painting, visual art
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