Now reborn, the artist collective embraces individuality while practicing unity
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unlikely time, but it is an opportune time for Baysulangpu Artists Society to stage a comeback in the Iloilo art scene with its first formal art exhibition in more than a dozen years.
In “Paradigm,” Baysulangpu (an anagram for the Hiligaynon word of pula nga subáy or red ants) presents the rebirth of a group that has welcomed new members to continue its long-held vision of hard work, determination, unity, and collective social responsibility.
“Our new members have a holistic frame of mind. They are daring, passionate and open to possibilities,” says Architect Angelo “Junjun” Duarte, one of Baysulangpu’s remaining original members.
“We are open-minded. That’s what unites us. We know how to accept criticisms and praises,” echoes Dea Mikaela Bañas, one of the group’s younger members and the newly-minted Baysulangpu president.
As an exhibition, “Paradigm” is the joining forces of the remaining original members and the new breeds—of artisans, craftsmen, fresh college graduates, and even a senior high school student.
Representing the old Baysulangpu are Arnold Almacen, Raji Alvarado, Onofre Ballescas III, Frank Alexi Nobleza, Edmar Colmo, Melvin Celis Guirhem, and Angelo.
Baysulangpu’s new breeds are Rey Buenaventura, Bobby Dela Cruz Jr., Kim Dela Cruz, Edwin De los Reyes, Giah De los Reyes, Vivien Gardose, Stephen Lagaras, Yanni Panaguiton, Steve Magbanua, KC Rile, and Dea.
In the new Baysulangpu, walls have been torn down and the individualities of each artist is embraced regardless of age, form of art, and background.
“There was never a barrier in the first place. Everything flowed smoothly. It’s a great sign that we’re in good hands and that we belong in a group that embraces you for who you are,” Dea tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
The new Baysulangpu is also a vehicle for both the old and the new to learn from each other. “We’re always about lifting each other up—making each other better artists. It is not only through our art, but as a person since our character can also play a role through our works,” Dea explains.
“Real artists support other artists, no matter who and what they are. If you bring them down, then you’re not a real artist,” Dea points out.
Angelo tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle that Baysulangpu may even be in the forefront to bring together warring artists in Iloilo as a means of uplifting the art community.
“We have to be united to succeed. We have to help each other out despite our differences in status or art form,” Angelo emphasizes.
The new Baysulangpu is more than just a group. It has become an extended family of sorts.“This group has given my father and I the opportunity to have a formal avenue for our shared passion for the arts,” Giah tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
The 19-year-old architecture student and her father Edwin are among Baysulangpu’s 11 new members. Giah even recalls that her father Edwin, who is a friend of Edmar, would take her to art exhibitions of Baysulangpu’s senior members when she was still a young girl. “I used to only see their works. Now, I’m part of Baysulangpu,” she says excitedly.
Aside from Giah and her father Edwin, there’s also brothers Bobby and Kim in Baysulangpu.
“Paradigm” features different mediums including oil and acrylic paintings, mixed medium pieces, wood sculptures, and stone-based sculptures in an art exhibition that will run until June 22 at Mamusa Art Gallery, Festive Walk Parade at Iloilo Business Park of property developer Megaworld Corp.
A two-decade journey
“Paradigm” also represents the evolution of Baysulangpu for almost two decades.
Founded in the early 2000s, Baysulangpu’s senior members survived a long-time ban at one of Iloilo’s museums when it joined a coalition calling for the prioritization of Ilonggo artists to have the right to exhibit at the museum’s art gallery. Over the years, several original members left to pursue their different careers while the remaining members still have their own careers outside of the art world: Angelo and Frank are architects, Arnold is a seasoned photojournalist while Raji is a social worker.
“Some of us may have been silent for a while, but the passion has always been there,” Angelo says.
Of the remaining original members, Melvin has carved a niche when he shifted to fabric art. Melvin won the grand prize for the Philippine Art Awards 2020 with his piece Failed Reconciliation, a colorful tapestry that portrays a family conflict.
Baysulangpu’s return to the Iloilo art scene began last year when several members joined the program of the Iloilo City government to paint bike racks that were installed in different parts of the city as bikes became an alternative mode of transportation during strict lockdown.
Baysulangpu followed this by painting a 100-meter art mural across SM City Iloilo as tribute for COVID-19 frontline workers last December 2020. By March 2021, Baysulangpu had an online exhibit via the Ilonggo Artists Galleria in support of the Iloilo City government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
For Baysulangpu, “Paradigm” is only a start. The group assures there will be many more art exhibitions and activities in the future.