Preserving Cordillera culture through solar drawing

Jessa Mardy N. Polonio
Preserving Cordillera culture through solar drawing
Jordan Mang-osan and his fellow Tam-awan artists try to bring to life the Cordilleran culture and tradition, so that the next generation can see what was then and what is now

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – From his humble beginnings as a construction laborer, Jordan Mang-osan is now a renowned solar drawing artist, producing life-sized artworks that depict the landscape of the Cordillera region as well as personalities like Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao.

Solar art utilizes sunlight, replacing paints and brushes with a simple magnifying glass to paint an image into a canvas.

Mang-osan started drawing as a hobby in elementary. He was named “Artist of the Year” upon graduation in Pico Elementary School, La Trinidad, Benguet, back in 1981. The recognition inspired him to continue his hobby, and it eventually became his career when he was 19.

Before he turned 19, Mang-osan earned a living as a construction worker. He was lost and confused as to what he really wanted to be, until Santiago Bose of the Baguio Arts Guild saw his potential as an artist when they bumped into each other along the streets of the city.

“I was inspired by the Baguio Arts Guild and when I lost my job, Bose mentored me as an artist,” Mang-osan recalled. When Bose passed away in 2002, he developed his own technique in solar drawing, which was originally coined by his mentor as “fire drawing.”

Starting out as an artist, he said, entailed a lot of struggles. Being born from a not so well-off family, choosing art as a profession is like a joke, with the revenue not even enough to feed himself.

“In the beginning, as usual, if you are an artist, the primary problem is finances, especially if you are still an aspiring artist not known in the world of famous artists.”

But he said that the lack of finances did not hinder him from pursuing his career. He and his group of artists in Baguio made remedies by printing T-shirts, tarpaulins, and cards, so they could have a source of income to sustain their daily needs.

“This became our bread and butter, alongside painting,” he added.

In 2012, Mang-osan’s life story from being a construction laborer to a renowned solar drawing artist in the country was captivatingly narrated in a 10-minute film that aims to encourage and inspire every individual to pursue his dreams despite less-than-ideal circumstances.

A year after the short film was posted on Youtube, it generated at least 37,662 views, and got various comments from viewers who said they were deeply touched by the story of the Igorot artist.

The short film was launched by Hong Kong-based creative agency Kymechow in Singapore, as part of its campaign series of short films for client Sun Life Financial.

The campaign features the work of 3 leading artists and film directors in Asia: Joko Anwar from Indonesia, Jim Libiran from the Philippines, and Stanley Wong from Hong Kong. The idea was to create a series of short films that sought to remind us all of the beauty of the sun and the role it plays in our lives.

Libiran’s film Araw stars Mang-osan and his breathtaking solar artworks. The film depicts the humble beginnings of Mang-osan from being a nobody in the “elite” world of artists, to becoming someone recognized and multi-awarded due to his great skill in drawing and painting.

Encouraging the youth

More than the fame of being a locally and nationally known artist, Mang-osan said that what matters to him most is the help that he renders to the community for every masterpiece he makes, depicting the culture and tradition of the Cordillerans.

“For me as an Igorot artist, I think that it is of big help in promoting tradition and culture, because as an artist you can preserve, develop or show to other people the Cordilleran culture through art, especially [since] our culture is already getting lost,” he said.

When the Tam-awan Village Art Gallery was being developed in 1985, Mang-osan became its caretaker until the Chanum Foundation Inc was established in 1986. He became an automatic member, including his group called the Tam-awan circle of artists.

He said the circle of Tam-awan artists tries to bring to life the Cordilleran culture and tradition, so that the next generation will see what was then and what is now. This, he said, is one way of preserving the vanishing culture of the Cordillera.

This can be seen in his works with most of his subjects presenting the culture, tradition, images and landscape of the Cordillera. He likewise focuses on the motifs and symbols of the Cordillerans. Mang-osan however said he changes subjects when he goes to exhibits, depending on the theme.

The Tam-awan artists have already been joining local, national, and international exhibits, which he said had slowly uplifted their economic status in life.

“We conduct free workshops for the youth and we encourage building of talents in art through these workshops so that the next generation will continue what we have started as a legacy to the Cordillerans,” he added.

His group is set to hold the 6th Tam-awan International Arts Festival from May 6 to 10, 2015, at the Tam-awan Village Art Gallery in Baguio to promote the development of artistic talents, especially among children. –

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