Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Act of God?

Still on the issue of fault and accountability...

A lot of people in the media keep saying that insurance companies likely won't cover damages caused by Typhoon Ondoy because they were "acts of God."

But, can it be argued that the damages were caused, not by acts of God but by "neglect of government?"

Renowned Filipino architect Jun Palafox says so, as do many "hazard specialists (who) think that the disaster is largely due in fact to Metro Manila's unregulated urban sprawl."

Now, just how authoritative all these people are remains to be seen, but our guess is that there are enough experts out there who can support this theory.

Then of course, there is the question of whether the release of waters from Angat Dam caused the flooding. How much of it was God's act, and how much was man's (or government's) fault?

Fortunately or unfortunately, we're not really set-up to do anything about this idea. But we would love it if someone else better equipped, skilled and qualified ran with it and pursued this idea to its logical end. It would certainly be an interesting test case for the courts, or for once, a worthwhile investigation in aid of legislation.

Either way, difficult and embarrassing questions will be asked and a great many people (especially those car/home owners who thought they were comprehensively covered) would surely appreciate getting some answers.

***Photo: JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images

Do The Math

Maybe now, even as relief efforts continue, it's time to think about accountability and responsibility... and to realize that we don't have to take and accept this.

Excerpted from a facebook posting by Inday Espina-Varona:

... I mention boats because these were the missing links in Onday rescue and relief operations... at around 6 pm of that day Teodoro was admitting the mighty NDCC had 25 rubber boats – half without engines...

The dearth in rubber boats and bancas meant that people were trapped on rooftops for 12 hours and longer. By afternoon of the 28th, the NDCC said government workers had rescued 8,000 – of the half a million homeless and many more affected. Do the math.

Metro Manila has a 15-million population. It has 1699 barangays (as of June 2008). For every barangay to have one banca would cost the government P169 million. Rizal province, equally devastated, has 188 barangays, another 18.8 million. That’s not even 20% of the price of President Arroyo’s 1-billion dream jet.

Do the math. For P1 billion, the government could buy a fleet of 10,000 bancas.

But we don’t even have to talk about Mrs. Arroyo’s Christmas stocking. Let’s just focus on her gustatory delights during a recent US trip.

A leaked report said that while Filipinos mourned the death of former President Corazon Aquino, Mrs. Arroyo and her allies were feasting and drinking at the hoity-toity Le Cirque in New York City, to the tune of $20,000. Another leak said the presidential party also had a $15,000 lunch in a Washington D.C. steakhouse. Still another report said a second expensive dinner had occurred in Le Cirque. If this last dinner cost only $15,000 the tab for all three feasts would have reached P2.45 million.
Do the math: 25 bancas.

Still, those dinners represented just a fraction of expenses in that US trip. A report by quotes Susanna Vargas, MalacaƱang’s deputy executive secretary for administration and finance, as saying that Mrs. Arroyo’s party spent $66,000 in Washington D.C. and $59,000 in New York for various service tips. That’s P6 million. Do the math: 60 bancas.

But even that is just spare change to Mrs. Arroyo’s overall travel expenses, which sparked outrage when a Commission on Audit report showed these had been partly funded by contingent funds – by their very nature, monies set aside for emergencies. Because Mrs. Arroyo, the economist, couldn’t balance her travel budget, some P95 million incurred by the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) were charged to the Palace’s contingent funds.(See above url)
Do the math: 950 bancas -- more than half of what Metro Manila-Rizal would need if each barangay is appropriated only one banca.

It is said that every peso that goes to the pockets of corrupt government officials is a peso taken from public services. I’m going to ignore the ZTE scandal, which was a preempted scandal, and focus on the ill-gotten wealth of General Carlos Garcia, former Armed Forces comptroller.

The good general is accused of skimming P300 million from the AFP’s budget. Even if you don’t care about soldiers dying because of a dearth in rescue equipment, you can do a different kind of math: 3,000 bancas.

I think P300 million is a very conservative estimate. Garcia’s son, Tim, just posted a “million-dollar bail,” according to an article by Peter Davis for “The Daily Beast” website.
Do the math: 490 bancas.

If Davis’ description of the young Garcia’s Trump Towers hothouse pad and its contents is true, add another $2 million. (Another 980 bancas). No way did his old man stop at P300 million. But you get the math.

The cited cases alone are enough (P550.45 million) to equip each Metro Manila-Rizal barangay with 2 bancas with change left for petrol. Or 14,877 rubber boats.

And we’re not even talking about Mikey or his father.

Photo credit: Erik de Castro/Reuters

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why We Know We're Going to be Fine

Because we have our heroes when we need them...

and bayanihan as everyone, it seems, looks for ways to help, and to pull together...

and, when all else fails -- sorry, but you're going to need a facebook account to see this one -- our trademark resilience and humor...

we just know that even in the face of overwhelming tragedy, grief and loss, we are all going to be make it through these terrible days...

We are proud to be Filipino!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thinking on a Very Rainy Day

Epic rain (13 inches in 6 hours, a new record and nearly as much as we get on average in a month! Or to put it in another light, New York City gets only 15-20 inches per year!) and unprecedented flooding in Metro Manila today.

PAGASA calls it an extreme weather event. You think?!

Lots of families and communities in real distress right now... our thoughts and prayers go to them. There will be time enough to point fingers and place blame, but for now, at this time, our thoughts and prayers also go to all the good people in government who are stretched far beyond the limits working hard to rescue and assist and reassure...

We know everyone will pull together and respond as we Filipinos always do in the coming days...

But what else can we - especially all of us in the creative sector - do that will have more lasting impact over the longer run?

Photograph: Jay Directo/AFP


Tatay never failed to take care of our old jeepney,
and we would not have traded it
even for the most expensive car around.

This jeepney was our lucky charm, he once told me.

I had always wondered why...

CANVAS is pleased to invite you to the launch and solo exhibition of artworks for our latest children's book, Ang Dyip ni Mang Tomas, written by Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, with artworks by Anthony Palomo.

The exhibition and launch will open with cocktails at the ArtistSpace of the Ayala Museum (just above M Cafe), at 630pm on Thurday, October 15, 2009.

See you there!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Church of Men

While we disagree with the Catholic Church on a number of issues - the RH Bill chief among them - we also fully recognize that there is much to be proud of, and beautiful about it. Its traditions, history and influence define and will continue to define much of what and who we are as Filipinos (whether we are Catholic or not).

The Church is part of who we are - our past, present, and future - and on balance, we are grateful for this fact.

But... it is times like these, when they choose to stand against the Magna Carta for Women - a law that can only empower women, that we are reminded that this is a Church of men.

Men, as in those who can never fully understand and empathize with the unique challenges that women face.

And men, as in not gods, and therefore, our equals and not infallible.

***Painting: "Rosario at Kape," oil on canvas (2007) by Manny Garibay.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Great Lecture on Art, Law and Technology

It's a bit long, but well worth it, from one of the most respected legal minds in the world on the subject.

YouTube doesn't allow you to download it as a video file so that you can just watch it at your own leisure, but here's a site that made it possible for us to do just that.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Looking for Juan - A Recap and A Start

From the original artworks that explored the Filipino Identity...

...which were transformed into outdoor art banners...

...and which finally, in turn, were recycled into one-of-a-kind art bags...

...our Looking for Juan Outdoor Banner Project has truly been exhilarating (at least for us), and hopefully for all of you as well. We enjoyed it so much that we hope to institutionalize as an annual event.

Some postscripts:

* From the proceeds from sales (completed and anticipated) of the art totes, CANVAS donated P25,000.00 to PADYAK, a UP Mountaineers-led movement that promotes cycling and environmentalism as healthy lifestyles. Thank you to everyone for your support.

* Art tote bags (plus a handful of premium ladies bags and laptop bags) are still available. Email if interested, or else please visit 1/of Gallery in Serendra or the Museum Shop of the Cultural Center of the Philippines were we've consigned some pieces.

* Our biggest thanks, of course, to the artists, graphic designers and writers who participated in this maiden event.

* We're set to do it again next year. For some details, click here.

The Looking for Juan Outdoor Banner Project was made possible in part by generous support from The Pag-IBIG Fund.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Architecture Competition That's Worth Joining

The Designer Village Challenge calls all architecture and planning professionals from different countries to come up with design solutions for communities at the forefront of climate change, specifically in developing countries located in the tropics.

This competition calls for a masterplan and design of an eco-agro-tourism development for a rural community in the tropical hotspot of Camarines Sur Philippines. The winner gets $10,000.00 and, more importantly, the winning design will actually be built by the competition organizers as a prototype community of 50 houses in Cam Sur.

For rules and other details, click here.

The Treacherous Lure of the Art Market

This very informative article from the New York Times persuasively argues that buying art for financial reasons is always a gamble, not an investment.

Bottom line: Buy art because you like (or better yet, love) it, and not because you think other people will.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sand is Not Just for Castles

I wonder if someone can do something similar here? Looks like this could be part of a good show... Hmmmm... Puede...

Kseniya Simonova is a Ukrainian artist who just won Ukraine's version of "America's Got Talent." She uses a giant light box, dramatic music, imagination and "sand painting" skills to interpret Germany's invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Philippine Art - The Next Big Thing?

Chanced upon this article from The Business Times in Singapore

The next big thing?

Ronald Ventura's 'Nesting Ground' (pictured above) sold for HK$2.18 million at Sotheby's in Hong Kong last year, a world record for Filipino Contemporary art at auctions. Is Filipino art set to fill the bubble that Chinese art exploded? By Woon Tai Ho

BLINK and you'll miss it. Tucked among shops along South Bridge Road selling handicraft to dried foods, Utterly Art is an obscure art space dedicated to an even more unlikely kind of art - its tiny 1,200 sq ft space houses the most Filipino art in the world outside the Philippines. Last year, gallery owner Pwee Keng Hock and his business partner Kenneth Tan had 18 shows just on Filipino art alone. This year, they are poised to end with 16 or 17 Filipino shows. A Randy Salon show earlier this year sold out, and their latest - for mid-career artist Jeho Bitancor - sold close to 70 per cent on opening day. Not bad, considering an economic downturn where art is said to be one of the first luxuries to go.

Utterly Art's finger on the pulse of the art market means it can act quickly to move in on any untapped niche. In this case, it was Filipino art - which was literally non-existent in Singapore then.

'A few galleries had sporadic features but no sustained and consistent presentations like what we do,' says Mr Pwee. But their strategy went beyond just that. With 200 exhibitions under their belt since they opened in 2001, the gallery has always shown an uncanny eye for unknown but talented artists, first in Singapore, and later in the region, before finally specialising in art from the Philippines.

By focusing on 'emerging' artists long before the word became popular, Utterly Art established itself as a venue for affordable and original art. 'Emerging artists need to start somewhere, and we happily became that somewhere,' adds Mr Pwee.

From 2006 to 2008, they rode out the 'art bubble', a period where Chinese and Indian contemporary art exploded - making millionaires out of poor artists, unsuspecting collectors, lucky galleries and happy auction houses. The bubble for Filipino art was tiny in comparison. Emerging Chinese artists' paintings right out of art school commanded prices of $20,000 to $30,000 each. But those were and still are the prices for established Filipino artists.

Mr Pwee and Mr Tan knew they were making a lot less money than those who concentrated on huge canvases from China and India, and later Indonesia. But they also knew the exploding market wasn't tenable. So when the bubble burst, Utterly Art was affected, but nowhere near the brutal blow big galleries had to bear.

In fact the bubble proved to be a blessing of sorts for Filipino art. Collectors, even galleries turned to cheaper art. Suddenly, work from the Philippines earned strong interest. Jay Amante, owner of two Blanc galleries in downtown Manila says: 'I see heightened interest from regional collectors in Filipino art, especially emerging contemporary artists. And this is mainly because of the quality and affordability of the works.' The economic downturn also 'benefited' Filipino artists who have always worked, even thrived, in the worst of economic conditions. Says artist Bitancor: 'We are used to making do with what is available.'

In the past year, the Filipino art scene has seen a boom, and for most of this year, when the general art market contracted, it held steady.

Sylvia Gascon, exhibit manager of Finale Arts File, a gallery in Makati, downtown Manila, says it is increasingly difficult to get art works from emerging contemporary artists in Manila, as they have been approached by regional and international galleries to hold exhibitions outside the country. As these artists take a long time to produce their works, the result is a shortage of 'supply' of readily available canvases.

'They have been able to maintain or even improve the range of their prices in auctions held by both Christie's and Sotheby's,' says Ms Gascon. 'But I must say this is not the case for the established masters such as Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel whose prices are already very high. Collectors are clearly looking out for contemporary artists, not the masters.'

Says Mark Justiniani, another respected contemporary Filipino artist: 'In fact, over the past 12 months, the art prices for contemporary artists have increased 20 to 30 per cent while the art prices in the other markets depreciated.' Jose Santos III, whose canvases are now much sought after, says with disbelief: 'There used to be a time when the Filipino artists could not even find a venue to show their works much less earn a living. The situation now is simply unimaginable.'

This economic downturn really has been a 'gift' to the Filipino art scene by showing how well its value is maintained. The Asian arts community sat up.

'It holds its own well, perhaps only second to the Chinese in technical skill. Their key emphasis is on figurative and representational art,' says Mr Pwee. 'Because of its great diversity, many different artists in all genres exist.'

The only Catholic nation in Asia, Filipino art is also characterised by Christian iconography and occasionally gives rise to what experts have described as 'dark, guilt-ridden images'.

Asked to single out the most striking feature of Filipino art, Justiniani sums it up thus: 'Non-prolific and individualistic, each artist strives to instill his or her own distinctive identity.'

Amante has only one word to describe Filipino art: 'diversity', and concedes that this economic crisis has been 'an ironic blessing of sorts for emerging artists in the Philippines'. He has been monitoring prices in both Christie's and Sotheby's. 'There is definitely heightened interest in contemporary Filipino art, allowing more artists into auctions and those that are already in auctions are maintaining their prices well.'

Keong Ruoh Ling of Christie's concurs: 'There are definitely more Filipino artists who have become suitable for our South-east Asian auctions. For those already in the auctions, they have maintained their prices, primarily because we have not seen dramatic increases in prices for Filipino artists compared to say the Chinese artists.'

Bitancor is cautious comparing Filipino art to those in Asia. 'We have yet to develop new media or multimedia to its full potential since it is technology-based and the Philippines has a lot to catch up with countries like Japan, Korea and others. We also are not capable of producing works that require sophisticated manufacturing.'

But for Filipino art lovers, like Khor Kim Huat who works in the media, and Sue Oliver who runs an advertising firm, they know the artists compensate with strong social messages. 'Most Filipino artists are not hungry for commercial success compared to many artists in China, India or Indonesia,' says Mr Khor. 'They thrive on addressing issues that are domestic with the use of available materials which are mostly organic. It lends character and sets them apart from high-tech art making.'

Ms Oliver, who recently purchased a piece by Filipino artist Crist Espiritu entitled Fast Food Funeral Party is fascinated by the symbolism used as social commentary. 'I am so amused by the expressions on the faces of friends who visit me - it certainly has shock value!'

Unlike other Asian countries, younger Filipino artists tend to be influenced by previous Filipino artists rather than foreign artists, so there is a distinct look and feel to Filipino art. Bitancor describes the look as crowding, or the fear of empty space. 'It is part of the Filipino psyche to put every last detail that the space may allow ... although artistic developments have revealed different approaches, thus a Filipino artist may now treat an empty space as positive.'

Some Filipino artists have already 'arrived', wildly collected by hungry enthusiasts. Geraldine Javier is an established name. And in a recent Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, Ronald Ventura's Pinamumugaran (Nesting ground) sold for HK$2.18 million (S$390,000), setting a world record for any Filipino contemporary art at auctions. Two years ago, you could get his works for less than $10,000.

Roberta Dans, a Filipino based in Singapore who runs Artesan Gallery and Studio in Bukit Timah, is optimistic, saying that she enjoyed a 'profitable 2008'. She is proud to have had Ronald Ventura in residence and staged very successful exhibitions for the artist.

'Filipino art today is experiencing an explosive dialogue between the works of old masters, established artists and young emerging artists. Big opportunities are opening up to the truly talented artists who are successfully crossing borders and gaining international recognition. I do believe it is a very special era for Filipino art.'

Adds Mok Kim Chuan, who heads the South-east Asian Paintings Department at Sotheby's: 'When we compare the average prices of contemporary Filipino art that we have sold over the past few years, we do see a general indication that prices have increased.' And another sign worth noting for Filipino artists, says Mok is: 'The contemporary generation has progressively grabbed more headlines.'

But experts believe it would be difficult for Filipino art to reach 'success' in auction houses the way the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian artists have. 'Quality wise, certainly,' says Mr Pwee. 'But just based on population alone, there will always be more people looking for Chinese, Indian and even Indonesian art. Home-based support is crucial. I do see it developing into a regional South-east Asian power like Vietnam.'

Adds Santos: 'Auctions only reflect part of the whole picture. There are Filipino artists who are not visible in auctions but are having outstanding careers and very impressive artistic output.'

Still, the underlying sentiment is still that while the investment upside is important, collectors should buy art because they like it. The bonus, of course, is that if you play your cards right, what you like will grow in value right on your living room wall.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Using Art to Think About the Elections

April 2010 - the month before the always interesting, confusing and exciting elections - will be an interesting, confusing and exciting month for CANVAS as well. On this month, we will launch two major projects that we hope will help the public to think critically about their roles as voters, and as Filipinos.

Below are brief descriptions of what we're thinking about.


Just as we did earlier this year, we will invite selected contemporary artists, graphic designers, photographers, and writers, to produce individual works of art which will be transformed and displayed as outdoor art banners that the public can enjoy and appreciate in a non-intimidating and relaxed environment.

For 2010, we have decided on the theme of Looking for Juan: Everyday Filipino Heroes. The idea is to send a collective message that the elections should not be about finding heroes because heroes are already all around us. Indeed, ordinary Filipinos - parents, teachers, policemen, farmers, fisherfolk, OFWs and many more - perform quiet acts of heroism everyday.

What should the elections be about, then? This is another question for which there can be many answers, and one that we hope the banners will also explore and express.

Tentatively, we hope to again display all the banners all around the University of the Philippines’ Academic Oval for the entire month of April 2010. At the end of the exhibition, the banners will be taken down and again recycled into tote bags as unique works of functional art. These bags will be sold, and proceeds will be donated to selected charities and activities, including support for CANVAS’ continuing efforts to promote greater awareness and appreciation for Philippine art, culture and the environment.

DEKALOGO (Noon Hanggang Ngayon)

Mabini's Decalogue, originally written in Spanish and translated in English below was sort of a "ten commandments" for Filipinos at the time. Even now, it seems so appropriate, and in many ways is simply timeless.


First. You shall love God and your honor above all things: God as the fountain of all truth, of all justice and of all activity; and your honor, the only power which will oblige you to be faithful, just and industrious.

Second. You shall worship God in the form which your conscience may deem most righteous and worthy: for in your conscience, which condemns your evil deeds and praises your good ones, speaks your God.

Third. You shall cultivate the special gifts which God has granted you, working and studying according to your ability, never leaving the path of righteousness and justice, in order to attain your own perfection, by means where you shall contribute to the progress of humanity; thus; you shall fulfill the mission to which God has appointed you in this life and by so doing, you shall be honored, and being honored, thou shall glorify your God.

Fourth. You shall love your country after God and your honor and more than yourself: for she is the only Paradise which God has given you in this life, the only patrimony of your race, the only inheritance of your ancestors and the only hope of your posterity; because of her, you have life, love and interests, happiness, honor and God.

Fifth. You shall strive for the happiness of your country before your own, making of her the kingdom of reason, of justice and of labor: for if she be happy, you, together with your family, shall likewise be happy.

Sixth. You shall strive for the independence of your country: for only you can have any real interest in her advancement and exaltation, because her independence constitutes your own liberty; her advancement, your perfection; and her exaltation, your own glory and immortality.

Seventh. You shall not recognize in your country the authority of any person who has not been elected by you and your countrymen; for authority emanates from God, and as God speaks in the conscience of every person, the person designated and proclaimed by the conscience of a whole people is the only one who can use true authority.

Eighth. You shall strive for a Republic and never for a monarchy in your country: for the latter exalts one or several families and founds a dynasty; the former makes a people noble and worthy through reason, great through liberty, and prosperous and brilliant through labor.

Ninth. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: for God has imposed upon him, as well as upon you, the obligation to help you and not to do unto you what he would not have you do unto him; but if your neighbor, failing in this sacred duty, attempt against your life, your liberty and your interests, then you shall destroy and annihilate him for the supreme law of self-preservation prevails.

Tenth. You shall consider your countryman more than your neighbor; you shall see him your friend, your brother or at least your comrade, with whom you are bound by one fate, by the same joys and sorrows and by common aspirations and interests.
Therefore, as long as national frontiers subsist, raised and maintained by the selfishness of race and of family, with your countryman alone shall you unite in a perfect solidarity of purpose and interest, in order to have force, not only to resist the common enemy but also to attain all the aims of human life.

We have now tapped 10 Salingpusa artists to interpret each "commandment" with one artwork each. CANVAS will then design posters for each - using the text of the commandment and the artwork, and capped by a plea to "Vote Wisely" at the bottom.

These posters will be made available as high-resolution files, downloadable for free on our website, so that people can have easy access to them and hopefully print, post them or even hand them out as flyers, for even more people to see and consider.

We're also hoping to get corporate sponsors who might be willing to take out full page ads using the posters in the weeks coming up to the elections. (Needless to say, any help ANYONE can give in this regard will be greatly appreciated.)

We sincerely hope that these two initiatives will serve as collective artistic contributions that will help fulfill the national dream for meaningful, relevant and truly transformative elections.

We're very excited! Abangan!!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009