Bayanihan Project gives contemporary Filipino art chance to shine

Bayanihan Project gives contemporary Filipino art chance to shine

Bayanihan Project gives contemporary Filipino art chance to shine

Updated 9 September 2017, 7:40 AEST

Often overlooked in favour of their counterparts from larger Asian nations like Japan, China and India, Filipino artists are finally getting their day in the sun.

In Australia, art from the Philippines often gets less attention than works from larger Asian nations like Japan, China and India.

"It's partly to do with the legacy of scholarship around Asian art, which is primarily interested in — or has been in the past, at least — in Japan and China and India as being these kind of great civilising cultures of Asia," says Matt Cox, curator of Asian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW).

That's set to change, as the Bayanihan Philippine Art Project, Australia's first noteworthy showcase of Filipino contemporary art, rolls out across Sydney.

Bayanihan refers to the Filipino custom derived from the word bayan — a pragmatic approach to the needs of community founded on the spirit of unity, work and cooperation to achieve a goal.

The role of the diaspora

There are just under 250,000 Filipinos in Australian — part of a 10 million-strong worldwide diaspora.

Filipino-Australian poet Eunice Andrada was commissioned by the AGNSW to respond to artworks in their Bayanihan exhibition, Passion and Procession.

Her live performance speaks to her own experience of the diaspora, and of the marginalisation of Filipino art.

"It's so amazing to have this platform to speak back to our people's stories this way, as well as for our arts and voices to be in centre stage. We've rarely been given an opportunity to do that," she says.

Andrada chose to respond to the work of Marina Cruz, whose paintings depict ornate dresses similar to those her grandmother used to make.

"I had such visceral reactions to the artworks," says Andrada. "There were a lot of religious symbols, themes and concepts that hit me straight in the heart. I had to respond."

Andrada's mother was an OFW, or overseas Filipino worker, who spent many years overseas supporting her family, and the artist was raised by her grandmother.

"In my performance I talked a lot about race, navigating a culture new country as a migrant, about gender dynamics, problems of colourism and the continuing colonial thinking in countries like the Philippines.

"What I want people to take away from my performance is that our cultures don't occur in a vacuum and with the rise of migration, and Filipinos going to other countries, there is a growing sense of displacement."

"There is a growing stigma against migrants, against people who don't speak English. I really want to open up that conversation and make sure that that stigma disappears, that's the only way we can progress."

More growth to come in the Asia-Pacific art market

The Bayanihan Project is the brainchild of 1996 Australian of the Year and prominent Asia-Pacific art collector Dr John Yu, and is taking place at the AGNSW, Blacktown Arts Centre, Mosman Art Gallery, Peacock Gallery (Auburn) and Campbelltown Arts Centre.

According to Mr Cox, the project reflects growing worldwide interest in the art of the Asia-Pacific thanks to the influence and affluence of key collectors.

And he doesn't think that will end with Filipino art: Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia may be next.

Passion and Procession is a free exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Bayanihan Art Project runs across multiple arts venues until 12 November.