Written by Tin Buenavista, co-founder of Artivism Iloilo

In one of my usual meanders in an eskina near Atrium, I could not help but get lost in the textural narratives of the walls – the peeled-off paint, the smell of tucked karinderyas, the doodled love stories and revolt, the madly intertwining electric wires: like metaphors for the entanglement of dreams and clamors above and throughout this city.

The eskinas and eskinitas – I’ve always had an affinity for them. Perhaps now, I can vulnerably admit that I kind of live many layers of my life as an outsider. And these dimmer unknown corners of Iloilo have given me comfort. I can pass through them with a state of peace in anonymity, in humbleness, and in radical otherness.

I grew up in two very different neighborhoods in my childhood: Sitio Batuan was a bucolic and scenic farming village without electricity, while the dubbed Smokey Mountain of Poblacion in my town was noisier, grittier, yet highly resourceful and inventive. The privilege of being able to experience gallery art and curated activities never occurred to my mind when I was younger.

In that one usual walk along that very familiar eskinita, a sensation found me, and it unfolded into a curiosity.

“What if art can pop out and reach these unlikely places?”

“What if public art can be slowly introduced to Iloilo?”

”What if the local government also recognizes the need for accessibility to it and its impact on our collective awareness?”

Then, like always, my imagination went all out – murals, performances, installations, busking, experimental film projections. When that happened, I allowed myself to dream. Then, for a while, I let that curiosity and those questions live in my heart like seeds.

I continued participating in the art scene by attending art exhibitions, joining and listening to poetry readings, and meeting artists and creatives, especially those who are interested in community-engaged arts and creativity as a practice for contemplation, philosophy, and activism. I am really grateful that those opportunities grew organically for me even if took a lot of time and struggles on my part.

One day, after a series of conversations with my partner Marrz, we talked more about the possibilities of starting up a public art-centric initiative. Marrz grew up in a rough neighborhood in Calaparan, but he gained his art education in more formal and established institutions like the INHS-SPA and USA-FA. A compassionate bridge that drew us closer was that we both grew up in poverty.

We both believed and saw that poverties were eased by art and imagination. Together, we daydreamed, doodled ideas, and deepened our dialogues with the co-mingling of technical knowledge, travel experiences, trained aspects in social entrepreneurship and active citizenship, and a lot of personal accounts of sunoy and nagutman immersions.

We both love eating in Marymart food court for frugality and people watching and we both try to embody pakikipagkapwa in our community projects, no matter where they lead us, from indigenous communities to fisherfolks’ bahay-kubo to other uncomfortable but eye-opening encounters.

The seeds germinated through the trust and support of so many Ilonggo artists and creative activists, local brands, and underground collectives. In 2016, with the invitation of the Active Citizens program of the British Council Philippines through Miss Angel Flores, the first massive Artivism Iloilo project happened at the parking lot of Robinson’s Place Iloilo. 

The journey was not easy, it was exhausting and disheartening. We faced suspicions from others, and doubts within ourselves, yet we endured by going back to our why and with the sustenance of the belief of the people we collaborate with.

Now, after almost six years, we have forged a family in our core team, we’ve had annual big projects showcasing concepts that grew from us because of many-layered ruminations, many murals around the city and beyond, a growing network of beautiful and compassionate Ilonggo and Filipino artists and activists.

We also have collaborations with NGOs, LGUs, and independent groups, a wonderful connection with Ilonggo youth in the city and province, and now, we are supported by the city government through the Iloilo City Local Culture and Arts Council. The Council has begun to fund some of our public art and community-engaged art projects since 2020.

Our collaboration with Xilium for the Young at Art Program gave young and budding Ilonggo artists free high-level art workshops and their very first exhibit, which everyone on the team very much enjoyed and was grateful for. 

What a humbling exploration and journey this is for me. And if you’re wondering, I still intentionally do walk around and through city eskinas and eskinitas and feel at peace, and weirdly feel so seen even if I am kind of hiding.