Los Baños town in Laguna as the next Escolta? Painter Paul Hilario, 42, imagines artists working on rolled-out mats on the streets without getting the look from passersby. He pictures an artists’ market, similar to that on the old Escolta Street in Manila, but surrounded by fresh mountain air.
His friend and photographer Al Benavente, 40, shares this excitement, especially with the turnout in this year’s “WiSik” on Aug. 24 at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). “In three to five years’ time, an annual art festival that art collectors would look forward to,” Benavente says.
WiSiK “intends to be an alternative venue where artists and craftsmen could sell their works and showcase their artistry,” according to an activity primer written by art curator Precious Leaño.
While the word literally means “to sprinkle,” the WiSik artists’ market “is the local art community’s celebration of language (Wika), the arts (Sining), and community (Kalikasan, Kalusugan, Komunidad),” she says.
Leaño and painter Marvin Oloris, who founded the MakiSining, a Makiling art group, conceptualized WiSiK. It was first held in the same month last year and became a success through the collaboration of the artists’ groups MakiSining, Quadro and Tulisanes Inc.
More than a hundred artists—twice the number last year—exhibited paintings, photographs and terracotta sculptures.
Cultural worker Bong dela Torre opened the program with a “tula-dasal,” or prayer in poem form, followed by a number of performances by theater artists and poets. In the afternoon, Palanca hall-of-famer and UP Diliman professor Reuel Aguila lectured on “Visual Language Across Art Forms.”
“What makes this different (from art exhibits) is the diversity. It’s not just an activity of painters among themselves or of photographers alone. The artworks were also done both by student artists and professionals,” Benavente says.
Organizers had a hard time figuring out the total sale though as, unlike an art gallery exhibition, the artists sold their works individually without sharing a portion with their hosts.
In one corner, for instance, was a rummage sale of books and bags that asked only for donations to victims of Typhoon “Maring” and the recent “habagat.” In another was a box of chicken sandwiches where people could get one and drop P10 into an “honesty box.”
Before the market closed, the crowd, including young children, gathered to sketch a female model who struck a pose on the steps of Dioscoro L. Umali Hall. Their works were later auctioned and some sold for a couple of hundred pesos.
“It’s not really about the price, but the spirit. It’s something when you realize that other people appreciated your work,” Benavente says.
Los Baños is a known science community, housing a number of international and national research and academic institutions.
But Benavente says the town is also teeming with artistic talents, like painter Manny Garibay, who studied in UPLB, and national artist nominee Junyee (Luis E. Yee Jr.).
A lot more are making Los Baños their home, like photographers Alex Baluyut and Sonny Yabao, whom Benavente cites as “pillars of Philippine documentary.”
The lush Mt. Makiling, its natural hot springs and rich flora and fauna only make Los Baños more conducive for the arts. “But as Junyee observed, there was little appreciation as compared with Baguio, maybe. You could sense arts, but there was no movement,” Benavente says.
He says art festivals could provide opportunities for artists to meet, interact and share influences.
WiSiK, Leaño says, “hopes to amass local patronage of the arts” as it also tries to make the public aware of this town’s “lofty potential as one of the more active places for the arts in the southern Tagalog region, if not in the whole country.”