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There are no ‘Probinsya artists’

Rock Drilon on the burgeoning art scene of Iloilo

PEOPLE’S GALLERY The cooperative gallery, Casa Real, in Iloilo City is probably one of the most visited galleries in the country

PEOPLE’S GALLERY The cooperative gallery, Casa Real, in Iloilo City is probably one of the most visited galleries in the country

Rock Drilon has contributed much to the Philippine art scene, not just as a painter but also as an active player dedicated toward advancing the cultural and artistic landscape of Iloilo. The distinguished visual artist, heralded for the unique works he presented upon emerging as a vibrant young artist in the ‘70s, was also the founder of the now defunct Mag:net Gallery, a widely sought after artistic space in Quezon City. Since returning to his hometown of Iloilo, he has set his sights on cultivating the local artistic landscape and helping create new platforms that will showcase the abundant talent that the city has to offer.

While in previous years, artistic communities outside Luzon were considered to be widely underrepresented, recent activities have thrown the spotlight on the promising artists of the Visayas region, through events such as VIVA ExCon, one of the longest running biennales in the country. Now, more than ever, the Philippine art scene features a rich sample of the heterogeneous cultural roots that provided artists across the region with unique aesthetic influences. 2

A number of “professional spaces” have blossomed in Iloilo City following such favorable conditions. This is largely compounded by the strategic collaboration of both the public and private sector, leading to the development of creative hubs that aim to effectively nourish the artists. The latest of this is Case Real Gallery, a joint undertaking between the Office of the Governor and VIVA ExCon Organization Iloilo, whose members are composed of the Iloilo Visual Artists Collective.

Rock Drilon speaks of his role in Casa Real, and shares his insight on how the “probinsya” artist has evolved in modern times.

Why did you decide to open a gallery in Iloilo? What inspired the name?

The galleries I facilitated in Iloilo are not mine personally. I have retired as a gallerist. They are either institutionalized, meaning imbedded in either a university or a government institution. This is to make them more sustainable since these institutions already have the space and staff that could run them. We only provide technical support and training. These spaces are not imposed but rather developed in consultation with the host institutions so even the names are decided by the host or adaptations of where they are located.

We encourage these galleries to professionalize the spaces (note: not the same as commercialize) meaning that they should have programming more than anything and adopt the right gallery practices: managing artists, inventory work, proper handling of works, archiving, marketing/promotion, networking, curatorial work, art writing etc. At the moment we have facilitated and assisted the establishment of FDCP Cinematheque Iloilo Art Gallery, Casa Real Gallery at the old provincial Capitol, Et Nos Gallery at Angelicum, ARTDECK gallery at John B Lacson Foundation Maritime University, and FitStop. On their own, the University of San Agustine, which has a College of Fine Arts has put up one and there is the artist-run Space Between in Molo. We have feelers who report that three other universities are also putting up galleries. Before the current set up, there were only Museo Iloilo and UPV Art Gallery.

Casa Real Gallery is a joint undertaking between the Office of the Governor and VIVA ExCon Organization Iloilo. It is a cooperative gallery, perhaps the only one of its kind in the Philippines whose members (Iloilo Visual Artists Collective or IVAC) are all Ilonggo artists and cultural workers. Since it started operation in October 2015, it has provided countless exhibition grants including shows in other venues like FDCP and Museo. It is also supporting other related art projects like art writing, readings, music events, and ARTBikes. It publishes the Iloilo Gallery Guide, which has the map of all the art venues in the city and short descriptions and photos of the current shows in every art destination. The guide has encouraged the venues to dish out changing exhibitions that last from one to two months. Governor Art Defensor has provided the cooperative with a space as part of the reuse of the newly restored old capitol heritage building. It now serves as HQ of VIVA ExCon Org, IVAC, and cycling heARTs, a bike org composed of cycling artists.

Casa Real and the Provincial Capitol Complex will be the main venue of the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference or VIVA EXCon from Nov. 17 to 20, the biggest and longest running art biennale in the country.

What are your insights on the art scene in the Visayas? 

Based on the materials submitted to us by artists from all the islands in the Visayas in preparation for VIVA ExCon in November, there is a new energy propelled for the sake of creativity. They are not too commodity-bound, which is sadly now preoccupying the Metro Manila Art scene. “Probinsiya” is no longer looked at as secondary or backward but as a mere geographical location.

Up close, I can only speak for Iloilo and I can say that it’s vibrant. There are so many talents, and the artists (visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers…) are blending into each other. Creative outputs are phenomenal in numbers and aesthetics maybe because of the existence of many venues that have programming for changing exhibitions, readings are regulars, and musicians and groups are also beginning to come together. In film, over a hundred Ilonggo films were screened at CineKasimanwa Film Festival last year and, according to festival director Elvert Bañares, this year’s film fest, which comes right after ViVA ExCon, will focus on Panay’s heritage and living traditions.

What is the main market for art in the region?

Again I could only speak for Iloilo. When we started Casa Real Gallery in October of last year, we would ship 80 percent art purchases to Manila. Now, it’s 50-50. The local collectors are growing, slow but moving. We have included art collection as one of the many topics for discussion in the coming ViVAExCon.

Will it be inclined toward a particular art genre? 

In Casa Real Gallery, we’re inclined to support contemporary art.

In your opinion, what is the role of contemporary galleries in transforming societies?

Art galleries are important and are really part of the “soft development” of society. Iloilo’s “hard” infra-development boom, which has brought in big investors must go hand in hand with soft development: care for environment, walkability, bikeability, preservation, restoration, the arts, sports. Roads must have sidewalks, bike lanes, and trees. Art must be PWD-friendly. Restored heritage buildings reused to accommodate art galleries, museums, cinematheques, libraries, and new infra must have art whether indoor or outdoor.

Artists without venue or space are highly dangerous people.

Do you believe the Philippine art scene is largely Manila-centric?

Not anymore.