Filipino artists

Visual artist Kawayan de Guia’s latest work is M.O.M.A-worthy

Frank Cimatu

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Visual artist Kawayan de Guia’s latest work is M.O.M.A-worthy

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Frank Cimatu

Shown like a huge Mondrian artwork on the walls of VOCAS, 'M.O.M.A.' is indeed a map of Kawayan’s mind before and after the COVID pandemic

Whoever went to Taipei must have noticed those Taiwanese girls in bikinis or microminis standing in neon glass booths along the road to the airport. These girls are called “betel nut beauties” because they are selling betel quid (which is a combination of areca nut, piper betel, and tobacco leaves, and lime) to truckers and others who want to get a natural buzz. Indigenous Taiwanese are also fond of the betel quid. 

This fondness of betel quid spread throughout Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. 

In the Cordillera, the first betel chewers were the Ifugaos, who created a whole culture around this practice. This habit has been passed from red lips to red lips to the other Cordillera provinces. Moma, the Ifugao word for betel quid, produces a spit that is blood-red. 

“Painting the town red” gets a literal meaning when Ifugao moma chewers gather and spit.

Taiwan’s Ifugao would be Hsinchu county. This is part of the territory of the Hakka people, one of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. They love tea as well as betel quid. 

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In 2023, Hsinchu and four other counties in Taiwan held Romantic Route 3, an arts festival spread throughout the 150-kilometer road connecting these counties. 

Baguio artist Kawayan de Guia was chosen to represent the Philippines in this prestigious arts festival from August to December. 

Kawayan was given a house in Guanxi township in Hsinchu. 

He was the best artist for the exhibit: Kawayan is an unapologetic moma chewer. 

For Romantic Route 3, Kawayan exhibited 1,500 sheets of his ruminations, graffiti, cartoons, scribblings, and diary entries. Using an antique typewriter, pencil (“He was always carrying a pencil,” mother Katrin Muller-de Guia observed), and ink, Kawayan churned these on colored paper and huge sketchpads. He punctuated most of them with globs of moma spit like stamps on a red wax seal. 

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“In an endless collection of fragments of years of restless hours and moments of silence, Kawayan de Guia’s set of sketches, writings, and collages are freed from journals and sketchpads and spat over with chewed betel nut, areca nut, and lime,” wrote Rocky Cajigan, a Cordillera artist and curator. 

Cajigan and two other friends were the ones who mounted M.O.M.A. or Momentary Oral Meditation Archives (2016–2024) in Hsinchu. 

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Last weekend, Kawayan mounted M.O.M.A. at the VOCAS Gallery in Baguio. The exhibit featured only a third of the 1,500 pieces but it gives you the immensity of Kawayan’s latest work, which Cajigan described as “the artist’s obviously most personal work.” 

“Musings, frustrations, homages, ironies, irreverence, and imaginings of this absurd era is by all means the emulsification of presents and pasts within the artist’s immediate habitat as much as the world during the pandemic,” Cajigan added. 

Shown like a huge Mondrian artwork on the walls of VOCAS, M.O.M.A. is indeed a map of Kawayan’s mind before and after the COVID pandemic. 

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His drawing talent needs not be questioned but highlighted here is his talent in writing. Even his misspellings are intentional. 

Kawayan is a voracious reader and his influences are apparent here. 

His homages to his father, Kidlat Tahimik, Chomsky, Rumi, Bukowski, Fela Kuti, Vandana Shiva, Bart Simpson, Beatles, Rizal, and Superman, among others, are interspersed with drawings of his pet Hakkaw (the sow), angel’s trumpet, amulets, and other scribbles. 

Catch this exhibit and enjoy Kawayan’s phlegmatic mematic explosion. –

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