Since we arrived here in Paris, France, last September 9, our group of nine Cebuano artists has not wasted a minute of our month-long stay here to try to learn as much as we can about French art and culture and likewise use our works to give Parisians a glimpse of Cebu.
The first few weeks were spent making paintings in a big studio in Le Cent Etablissement Culturel Solidaire (Le 100 ECS), the six-floor studio and gallery complex owned by the City Hall of the 12 Arrondissement of Paris. Producing new work is the goal of the art residency program, and somehow we managed to do that in between museum and gallery visits.
It helped that Le 100, our sponsor in France, has been kind enough to provide us with, among others, art materials we would need to create our works. And Europe is a source of the best art materials in the world.
Our sponsor also provided us with a big studio equipped with radiators for heating, a kitchen and dining area, and even a small open air courtyard garden in the middle of the fifth floor, where our studio is located.
It was such a delight for most of us who are used to scarcity of materials in the Philippines to be able to work with everything you need within reach. All we had to do was to focus on what to paint. And there was no lack of inspiration as France surely left us all spellbound, as it did Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Alberto Giacometti and many other foreign artists in the past.
Indeed, the Cebuano artists were able to finish their works ahead of time and even produced more. Our works were featured in the 12 X 12 international art festival, a major event hosted yearly by Le Cent. It opened last September 25 in the City Hall of the Paris 12 arrondissement, with no less than Mayor Michel Blumenthal of the district and André Peter Estanislao, the young and very sociable Vice Consul of the Philippine Embassy in France, in attendance.
ABS-CBN’s The Filipino Channel crew in Paris also came to cover the event. A lot of Paris-based Filipinos, most of whom learned about the event only through Facebook, came to see our work and show support. The Cebuanos among them, particularly, were amused to see such a big delegation of Bisdak artists exhibiting in France. The big turnout surprised even our French organizers.
Three days after on September 28, our other exhibit, which we shared with our curator, the Cebu-based Parisian artist Remy Rault and another French artist, Cyril Rouge, opened at the arcade gallery in Le 100. It was also a special soiree for the Filipino community in Paris sponsored by the Philippine Embassy in France, which provided Filipino food and wine to the delight of both French and the Pinoys in the crowd. For the latter, it was a rare small Filipino fiesta in chilly Paris.
Until now, we continue to be surprised and amazed by unsolicited help and expressions of support from our kababayans in France and even nearby countries in Europe. When she learned that we were getting sick adjusting to the cold weather during our first two weeks in Paris, Levi Jensen, my brother’s former classmate now residing in Sweden, sent me thermal clothes.
Noeme Puno, a Paris-based painter from Bulacan, showed up twice in our studio to bring us home-cooked pansit and puto. She also invited us to dinner in a fastfood restaurant frequented by Pinoys in Paris.
Nenita Reyes, a Cebuana who lived very close to our studio, also invited us to dinner and a karaoke party with two of her bisdak friends in her apartment. She cooked humba, brought out martini and wine; and turned on her karaoke for the homesick Cebuano artists who did not hesitate to sing mostly Pinoy songs.
Our new friend Sharon Gil, a Cebuana who works in the United Nations in Paris, also helped spread the word about our show to her Filipino and other expat friends in France. She treated some of us to a sampling of special European beers in a pub near the Moulin Rouge.
Marcial Baladhay, another Cebuano who has been living for several years now in Paris, also sponsored some of us in a trip to Giverny, at the famous garden where Claude Monet painted his waterlily series.
All these gestures provided us with a little warmth of home here in France and renewed our faith in the hospitality of our kababayans wherever they are in the world.