Joar Songcuya has traveled the world as one of the millions of Filipino sailors. But unlike most Filipino sailors, he has transitioned into an artist while traversing the world’s seas and oceans.
In his inaugural exhibition at Altro Mondo art museum in Makati City, the Ilonggo sailor has unraveled his decade-long sailing life that was temporarily cut by the pandemic.
“This show is an introduction to my sailing life. Each of the pieces possess a very sentimental connection to me. Like when I first sailed in the Black Sea, the first time I reached Africa, the first time I’ve seen Indian Ocean and the Aegean Sea,” Joar tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
Aptly dubbed as “The History of Water: Joar Songcuya,” it is a collection of oil paintings by the self-taught artist.
Painted both onshore and offshore, it is Joar’s visual diary. His brush strokes evoke the mood of the sea, the ocean, and the sky. The painting of an empty cabin or of nearby ships and boats void of people may speak of isolation.
“In ‘The History of Water,’ the sea becomes visible and so does the lonely yet deeply felt life that it enables,” writes Charlie Samuya Veric, a poet and scholar who is the curator of Joar’s first solo show.
“The sea is art. Equally important, the sea is history painted large,” Charlie points out in his curatorial notes.
In this particular collection of works, Joar has five personal pick: Pacific Light as part of his healing process from a family loss; The Black Sea for the harshness and violence of the water; Aegean Sea for having seen his compulsive personality appearing in the piece; Sailor’s Cabin for having found art as his source of comfort; Rain at the Caribbean for his first encounter with large dolphins; and Maltese Yachts for the ancient aspect of the Maltese coast.
The solo exhibition that ends Feb. 14, 2021 is also a tribute to his fellow Filipino seafarers and a celebration of people’s diversity.
“The world is a very, very small place. With ocean and seas in between, the water that separate the land is the same water that connects people of diverse color, language, and culture,” Joar says.
Art as life’s anchor
For Joar, discovering art while at the sea is one of his most important discoveries and a gateway to finding life’s meanings.
“If a ship needs an anchor to keep it stable from harsh conditions, then art or painting has become my own anchor to keep me compose and afloat. Painting has become my own best friend for those long years of my sailing life,” recalls Joar.
“I may have seen half of the world, but finding life’s meaning through art in the company of water is my greatest personal discovery. Human life is hard. It is full of sufferings, but it is in art where I found healing, comfort, forgiveness, and love,” he adds.
The 30-year-old artist from Barotac Viejo town, Iloilo province has been traveling the world as a student at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU) when he received a Norwegian scholarship.
It was during the last five years when Joar began to read art books and art e-books when not tinkering with equipment as a marine engineer as he was seriously considering becoming an artist. He studied the works of Joseph Mallord William Turner, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh.
“They are my biggest influences. Turner for his atmospheric seascapes, Monet for his distinctive brush strokes and the usage of blue and green, and van Gogh for his unapologetic line works, bold colors and his tragic, but beautiful life,” Joar says.
Apart from his first solo exhibition, Joar is also preparing another exhibition to be curated by Prof. Patrick Flores as part of the 16th biennale Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon), which is ongoing in phases and will run until July 2021.