Philippine arts

A step forward: How artists reuse shoe molds to raise funds for community efforts

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A step forward: How artists reuse shoe molds to raise funds for community efforts
Project Hulmahan also has more ‘ambishoes’ projects in store!

MANILA, Philippines – Old wooden shoe molds are often discarded or used as firewood. But making use of what others would think as waste, art-driven initiative Project Hulmahan gave new life to these molds by turning them into artworks that could be sold to raise funds for community efforts.

The revived molds were launched in an exhibit titled “Hope Lasts” in Estancia East Wing, Pasig City, on Wednesday, March 15, featuring 1,000 of these artworks, made by more than 700 artists nationwide. 

The pieces there can be purchased, the proceeds of which will go to Bayanihang Marikenyo at Marikenya’s community-based livelihood programs such as Bayanihang Karinderya, Bayanihang Tindahan, Solidarity Store, Bayanihang Sapatusan; art workshops; as well as the Community Kitchen Project’s disaster response initiatives which cover 14 regions in the country. 

Bayanihang Marikenyo at Marikenya is a wide network of volunteers who helped establish community kitchens in Marikina during the start of the pandemic. The initiative was extended through The Community Kitchen Project to expand the reach of community kitchens nationwide. 

Project Hulmahan is made up not just of Bayanihang Marikenyo at Marikenya, but also Ladies Who Launch, and the University of the Philippines Artists’ Circle Fraternity.

Zena Bernardo – the head of Project Hulmahan, and mother of Patricia Non, known for initiating the community pantry movement in 2021 – was inspired to continue the advocacy of community pantries by repurposing hulmahan or shoe molds as the main medium for this fundraising cause. 

For Bernardo, each artwork is “a piece of the story of how people rise against all the challenges brought by the pandemic.” Some of the 700 participating artists come from vulnerable communities affected by food insecurity and typhoon disasters, among others.

SHOE MOLDS. Project Hulmahan features artworks focusing on themes of grassroots and indigenous communities.
SHOE MOLD. Project Hulmahan features artworks focusing on themes of grassroots and indigenous communities.
NO TO KALIWA DAM. An artwork advocating to stop the construction of Kaliwa Dam in Sierra Madre.

“I’m very happy to say that the participation is nationwide. We have Paeng survivors, we have Odette survivors, we have Sendong survivors. There are community kitchen volunteers. We also have Sumilao community kitchen,” Bernardo said in a mix of Filipino and English.

“So whether you are an artist, or a businessman, or a mall owner, a mother, or an OFW (overseas Filipino worker), you have a place,” she added. 

Manda Guiam, one of the participating artists, shared that Project Hulmahan gave her a sense of direction in life as she felt lost in her previous careers. 

In her artwork titled “Hope springs eternal,” she mentioned how resilience allows Filipinos to become stronger.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL. The artwork titled “Hope springs eternal” by Manda Guiam as one of the entries of the exhibit. 

“I volunteered in Project Hulmahan because I know it offers people hope-that people won’t be left behind in times of need, and that we’ll go through tough times together. Though our resources are short, we’ll give everything that we have and fight for the causes we believe in,” Guiam said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

How it started

As a citizen of Marikina, Bernardo was inspired to use shoe molds when she witnessed how locals of Isla De Lata, one of the underserved communities during the pandemic, used discarded shoe molds from closed-down factories to make firewood. 

To help the displaced factory workers in her hometown, she thought of rescuing shoe molds to turn them into one-of-a-kind works of art.

Nag search ako sa Pinterest ng shoe lasts art, shoe mold art…pero nasa Latin-America ‘yung mga painted. Sabi ko, marami kaming shoe lasts sa Marikina, what if I will find these factories na nagsara na may mga nakatambak pa and we can buy them, at least pangdagdag sa puhunan, ‘di ba?” Bernardo said.

(I looked for inspiration in shoe last art and shoe mold art on Pinterest, but mostly found that the painted ones were from Latin America. I thought of finding factories in Marikina that closed down to also help ease their losses during the pandemic.) 

The project was drafted in a concept paper, and was well received by Bernardo’s friends. However, money was the biggest challenge Bernardo encountered to execute the launch. She had to borrow money just so they could afford supplies. Luckily, her friends lent her some and she used it as capital to purchase the first 500 pairs of shoe moulds. 

The initial plan was to only cater to 50 to 100 artists to work on the project. However, through callouts released by their family and friends, the initiative sparked over 700 artists nationwide to join, which made them purchase a thousand more molds.

LIFE SIZE TRIBUTE. A life size shoe mold was displayed during the launch to pay tribute to the organizers of Project Hulmahan. 

How can you say no to an artist who says ang ganda ng concept, gustong-gusto nila sumama, they really like it na makatulong? Tapos sasabihin pa nila sa ‘yo, ‘Ma’am no’ng nabasa namin concept paper mo, naiyak kami.’ And mutual aid nga ‘to tapos sasabihin mong hindi pwede tumulong? So naghanap pa kami ng mas maraming hulmahan,” Bernardo said. 

(How can you say no to an artist who believes in your cause and has the courage to help? They were even touched by the concept paper. And of course, it’s mutual aid. It’s only necessary to accept help as much as you can. We later looked for additional shoe lasts.) 

Through the help of communities, Bernardo’s team managed to buy 2,000 shoe molds to cater all participating volunteers and artists of different backgrounds and communities.

The next step

Shoe molds will go a long way, as Bernardo envisions bright plans for their community kitchen. Not only will the proceeds of Project Hulmahan go to Bayanihang Marikenyo at Marikenya’s community-based livelihood programs and the Community Kitchen Project’s disaster response initiatives, but it will also be used to make yet another “ambishoes” project happen.

Gusto namin magkaroon ng Bayanihang Karinderia (We want to have a Bayanihang Karinderia),” Bernardo shared. 

Bernardo wants to incorporate a “pay what you can and pay it forward” system. She cited that while an ordinary karinderia business has to have location, food, and manpower, she believes that a community can also operate its own Bayanihang Karinderia powered by volunteerism. 

Ang ganda ng mutual aid kasi it does not impose exclusivity. Parang lahat pwede tayo magtulong-tulong. There can never be enough players in the mutual aid movement,” Bernardo said. 

(Mutual aid is beautiful because it does not impose exclusivity. It’s like everyone can help one.) 

Project Hulmahan will hold a month-long exhibit at the Estancia East Wing starting on Wednesday, March 15. A grand auction will also take place at the Manila Marriott Hotel in April 2023. – with reports from Glenn Jr. Ferrariz and Joan Alindogan/

Glenn Jr. Ferrariz is a Rappler volunteer from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He’s in his fourth year of taking up Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

Joan Alindogan is a Rappler Intern from TRACE College Inc. Los Baños Laguna. She is currently in her senior year taking up AB Communication Arts.

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