Ilonggo artist and seafarer gives a glimpse of Filipinos’ life at sea through his paintings

Published December 3, 2021, 3:14 PM

by John Legaspi

Joar Songcuya pays homage to fellow maritime workers with ‘Atlantiko, Pasipiko, Artiko’ exhibit

The idea of a life at sea can be an invitation to adventure for many. Sailing on the high waves, feeling the cool salted breeze on your face, and the prospect of gallivanting on different places is a quest not all can experience. But for Filipino maritime workers, it means bidding farewell to their family and other loved ones as they brave the oceans to support the people they’ll be leaving behind. On the ship, homesickness is the main challenge to overcome. That’s why busying themselves while off-duty is a must to keep the sadness at bay.

For Ilonggo marine engineer Joar Songcuya, getting his hands on colors and canvases has been a way for him to cope with his nautical life and an avenue for him to get really in touch with the artist within him.

Joar Songcuya

“Since 2011, I started converting my cabin space or my ship bedroom into an art studio,” he says. “My engineering job was really physically demanding but having this art space, making a room for creating art, had made things a little lighter and bearable… I was getting so serious about my art practice that I started to carry rolled canvas cloth aboard my ship assignments. I think I have painted over a hundred paintings and drawings during these sailing years. But most of my paintings are not publicized, or shown in any galleries.”

But that is about to change now with his works being featured at Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference 2021 (VIVA ExCon 2021), a Visayas-wide biennale. With this year’s theme “Kalibutan: The World in Mind,” Joar, with the help of historian, art critic, and University of the Philippines professor, and curator Dr. Patrick D. Flores, presents his exhibit “Atlantiko, Pasipiko, Artiko.”

Chronicling his journey sailing three of the world’s most prominent bodies of water, the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic, the exhibit serves as a “window to the waterworld—the world of men and women at sea.”

‘Pasipiko ll’

“With a total number of 93,161 registered commercial ships globally, 50 to 70 percent of the crew are of Filipino or Asian origin,” the artist says. “The Philippines is noted as a major supplier of the world’s maritime fleet and as an artist who happens to be a sailor, this motivation and passion to retell the story of the ocean in my own impression is more than personal. ‘Kalibutan: The World In Mind’ will present projects that celebrate our very own existence, asking what is our place in the world, what disconnects us, and at the same time what binds us in this small world.”

Through his works, Joar gives a chance for viewers to see these great bodies of water through the gaze of seafarers. Unlike the high-definition images we see online and in print, these aquatic views present nature’s unparalleled beauty veiled by moody brushstrokes.

‘Artiko ll’

‘Atlantiko l’

“I must say I am not a sailor who became a painter or an artist after 10 years of being at sea. I think I was already a painter or an artist back then who happens to be a sailor,” Joar says. “We all are artists in different expressions, whether you are educated or self-taught, or you are widely exhibited or not at all. This human drive to create something, to create an output serves as a testament to the very existence of mankind under this one small planet.”

Also featured in the biennale are works of revered artists such as Leo Abaya, Lani Maestro, Leandro Locsin, Brenda Fajardo, Lino Severino, Nunelucio Alvarado, Perry Argel, among others.

“Atlantiko, Pasipiko, Artiko” is available for viewing at Orange Project Gallery in Bacolod City until Dec. 31, 2021. Click here to know more about the artist and his works.