Artivism gives face to Iloilo’s vulnerable public markets
ILOILO CITY, Philippines – “Ang akun banwa yara sa nawum sing tienda (The face of our hometown is mirrored by our public market),” said Ilongga poet and artist Kristine Buenavista, one of the founders of Artivism Iloilo, as she reflected on their recent activity at Barotac Viejo’s Public Market.
Buenavista was born and raised in Barotac Viejo. In December 2019, Buenavista and a group of young Ilonggo artists immersed themselves in the locale’s culture for Artivism Iloilo’s “Marka Merkado” – an initiative that seeks to empower local market vendors and small entrepreneurs through art and other programs. The event culminates with the painting of a handful of murals that pay tribute to the town’s humble artisans.
A portmanteau of “art” and “activism,” Artivism Iloilo was first established in 2017, with the support of the British Council. Since then, the organization has partnered with various local government units, non-governmental organizations, and artists’ groups to make its advocacy possible: Bring art closer to the masses.
"We paint walls to break walls," is how Artivism co-founder and Ilonggo painter Marrz Capanang summarizes the vision of their initiative. They aim to champion public spaces as meaningful venues for art and expression, away from often restrictive and exclusive galleries and museums.
“Artivism was made to raise awareness of pressing social issues through different forms of art,” explained Buenavista. “Mainly murals, complemented by other expressions like musical performances, poetry, and more. We also design community-based workshops, contests, and open sharing sessions with the communities.”
In its third year, Artivism Iloilo partnered with the local government of Barotac Viejo to mount the endeavor, as part of the municipality’s annual Patubas Festival – the town’s harvest festival and town fiesta held in late December every year.
‘Vulnerable public markets’
Buenavista and Capanang shared that they deliberately chose Barotac Viejo Public Market to be their group’s new blank canvas in a bid to keep “traditional marketplaces alive.”
Iloilo’s bucolic rural towns have seen rapid business growth this past year or so. Large national grocery store chains are putting up franchises in the town proper of a handful of strategic municipalities, competing with community public markets for customers and gradually putting most local vendors out of business.
“As new and bigger businesses are coming into this small town [of Barotac Viejo], we hope that through showcasing the oldest and still active vendors of our community on the walls of the market, people will be reminded of the essence of the merkado: Ilonggo families directly receiving every peso we share or pay,” explained Buenavista.
“Public markets are more than just a place to buy things,” Capanang added. “It contributes a lot in shaping our local culture – from trade to food to livelihood to community. Newer, bigger businesses are coming into the town, and it makes the small vendors and small enterprises anxious, overlooked, and vulnerable.”
Artivism Iloilo sees local market vendors as unnoticed bearers of Ilonggo tradition, unappreciated despite their indelible contribution to their community’s culture and customs.
“Local vendors have been keeping the traditional market alive. Some of them have spent almost their whole lives trading inside these marketplaces. We love highlighting the seemingly unseen and unheard of with the hope that it brings awareness,” Buenavista told Rappler.
Late last year, one the first murals completed under “Marka Merkado” quickly went viral on social media: The portrait and story of 75-year-old Nang Maria, a vendor of local delicacies and kakanin (rice treats), also the town’s foremost maker of ibus – the Ilonggo favorite of sweetened sticky rice wrapped in palm or buri leaves–resonated with plenty of people online.
“To us, [Nang Maria] signifies the daily commitment of our local vendors to wake up and contribute in the local economy and the dignified lives of their families. Moreover, we admire her silent way of keeping our native delicacies alive,” related Buenavista.
“She and the few remaining kakanin vendors in the public market are our own culinary culture bearers. She has also taught other younger women how to make these old-time favorites so they can have their source of income,” she added.
The other murals included a portrait of Barotac Viejo's oldest manuglab-as or fishmonger Lola Denia; and a tribute to the town's nostalgic salesman of classic Pinoy toys like tiradors and jolens Lolo Rudy, who's become a part of most of the town's treasured childhood among others. All of these murals can be seen on various walls inside the Barotac Viejo Public Market complex.
Among the artists Capanang and Buenavista collaborated with were Marge Chavez, Noel Epalan Noel Jr., Tiko Batiller, Yoyoy Timbad, Isaac Bravo, Sasha Cabais, Jayce Batu Boco, Mart Abela, Margaux Blas, Therese Faith Brasileño, Natsuki Dicar, Philline Dicar, Ra'z Salvarita, Elle Divine, Pam Reyes, Marvin Monfort, Ron Matthews Espinosa, Llywyllynn Timbad, Red Haraya, Kyla Buenavista, Angel Faith Balincuacas, and Jecko Magallon.
“When we imagined and envisioned Artivism Iloilo, our goal was to bring art beyond the usual avenues such as galleries and museums. We feel that art is meant for everyone no matter what walk of life they are in,” explained Buenavista.
“Overall, we feel that public markets should not be undermined as venues for cultural and artistic activities. We hope that collectively, we are able to reflect on how we can support our local produce and kasimanwas (fellow townsfolk)," she added.
Aside from the mural painting activities, other highlights of Marka Merkado held last year from December 17 to 18 were community-centered contests such as Pimp My Trike, a Degamo Cooking Contest, Inukay Upcycled Fashion, and Pitik Photography Exhibit, as well as talks about zero waste living and entrepreneurship, and a two-day mini concert at the heart of the market.
The murals that are part of Artivism's Marka Merkado are set to be up at the Barotac Viejo Public Market indefinitely, with the support of the municipality's Mayor Nielo Tupas.
Artivism Iloilo said it seeks more collaborative projects in the future, in its goal to make art accessible to all. – Rappler.com
Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay is a Rappler Mover based in Iloilo. He reports mostly on the local cultural community and art scene.