This platform allows young Filipino artists to thrive amid the pandemic

Published October 12, 2020, 1:11 PM

by Jules Vivas

An opportunity in art that you shouldn’t miss

Throughout history art has been used to promote creativity, ignite the imagination, and stir emotion into the hearts of many. It also helps creators and audiences cope with the times, in circumstances that seem too great to comprehend and even endure such as the current pandemic.  Suffering, however, is also a source of inspiration for artists—from Edvard Munch illustrating his experience with the Spanish flu to Keith Haring’s artwork on the 1980’s AIDS crisis. 

The world now revolves around the Covid-19 pandemic. One cannot emphasize enough how our lives have changed because of the virus. Thousands of people who find themselves in self-isolation resort to art in order to endure and survive the uncertainties. Mental health studies reveal that art reduces feelings of stress and anxiety caused by the current health phenomenon. But more than a source of leisure and entertainment, art is a powerful tool that sparks hope. 

In collaboration with multi-genre arts festival Fringe Manila, Pilipinas Shell recently launched Virtual Art Interact, a platform for renowned artists to share their insights on the sector and how to develop their skills. The virtual forum-cum-workshop is part of the petroleum corporation’s long-running National Students Art Competition (NSAC), an ongoing contest aimed to support young artists. Entries are still being accepted until Oct. 11.

WEBINAR[T]  A screenshot of the recently concluded Virtual Art Interact with (Clockwise from top left) Leeroy New, Con Cabrera, Jappy Agoncillo, and Andrei Pamintuan

Virtual Art Interact featured workshop demos as well as artist discussions designed to support local young creatives from the grassroots level, following NSAC’s 53rd anniversary in August. 

Like NSAC, the Virtual Art Interact’s main theme is “Hope in our art,” which challenges the youth to produce artworks that encourage positivity. Spread across three days and three regions to cover the entire Philippines’ rich creative landscape, the first leg of the art conference kicked off in Luzon. The biggest island in the archipelago has no shortage of culture, both in the urban setting and beyond. National Capital Region (NCR), in particular, is known for its energetic contemporary art scene, with the most prominent galleries and museums all over Metro Manila. 

For many years, the oil and gas company has been an advocate for the arts, recognizing that it is a key to unlocking the potential of the youth and our nation’s future. “We want the NSAC to become a platform to support and empower the community, so that they may in turn uplift more Filipinos through art,” says Sankie Simbulan, the country social performance and investment manager of Pilipinas Shell. “Despite this crisis, art and artists are resilient. Through programs such as Virtual Art Interact, Shell is able to amplify artists’ voices and give young artists a better chance to thrive, despite the difficult circumstances they are facing.”

“It’s been very difficult because we can’t go out,” admits Manila-based street artist, painter, and illustrator Jappy Agoncillo. The Pinoy creative is famous for his distinct comic-book style using pop culture themes. Most of his most popular works can be found sprawled against buildings and urban structures around the metro. While the city may be his canvas, the lockdown has challenged him to seek other platforms and sources of inspiration for his art.

For the webinar, Jappy performed a live demonstration of acrylic art. “I’m a street artist, but doing street art is off the table right now. I overcame this by shifting toward trying to help others. Many people have lost their livelihoods and want to turn to art to create, express themselves, and even earn a little more. I’ve been giving advice to younger, aspiring artists who are figuring out how to begin their careers,” he muses.

With so many creative spaces shuttering, artists currently need new platforms to showcase their work—therefore the NSAC and Virtual Art Interact are the perfect venue to keep the industry alive. “We have this well of information and platforms through the internet. We can easily connect,” added curator and art director Con Cabrera who moderated the discussion. “It’s a very special time for artists.”

Renowned sculptor and former NSAC winner Leeroy New pointed out how technology has been shattering the glass ceiling for artists, especially during the lockdown where the art-starved public turn to the internet for solace, expression, and inspiration. “Now, everyone can share their art online and have access to a global audience,” he explains.

After participating in the program more than 15 years ago, Leeroy has gone on to achieve awards and world-class recognition from the Asian Cultural Council, Singapore Biennale, and other prestigious organizations. He also mentioned the significant role art plays beyond demonstrating individual creativity, saying, “But with this crisis, art as a practice has to expand. It’s not just about creating artworks, but also figuring out how to use that self-expression to be involved in the community—whether that’s converting your studio to design protective equipment for healthcare workers, or creating art that informs. So it’s also a matter of expanding our concepts of creativity with the times.”

Winners of the 2019 NSAC

 “The artist’s role in society is to be of service in the community. The NSAC is a good reminder for our young artists to not just hone their craft, but also think about how their art can change lives,” says Andrei Pamintuan Fringe Manila’s festival director.  

 “Artists are the storytellers of the world, and our stories have the capacity to transform communities and society for the better by instilling progressive ideas into our work,” Leeroy concurs.

Virtual Art Interact promises to continue in supporting artists so that they may thrive despite the negative effects of the pandemic to cultivate the ideas of tomorrow. The next leg is set to happen on Oct. 17. It will focus on the Mindanao region.

Winners will be awarded with medals, and plaques, and cash prizes of P30,000, P40,000, and P60,000, for the third to first placers respectively. To know the mechanics, visit Pilipinas Shell’s official website. For more information, also visit their social media accounts.