The Iloilo Art Book heralds the rich Ilonggo talent

By Ted Aldwin Ong

The Iloilo Art Book was conceptualized in 2019 by the Iloilo Summer Arts Festival Committee as a component of the art event for 2020. The project was suspended because of the health crisis, which placed Iloilo City in a similar situation to the rest of the world.

The Iloilo City Government reactivated the plan late last year, and the Iloilo Art Book finally came to fruition with a small committee handling the publication work. Apologetically, I’m not privy to the nitty-gritty of its publication, and my role was to contribute brief profiles on museums and galleries of Iloilo.

I learned that the book underwent various adjustments which affected its original timeline because of the huge pre-production work and actual writing, re-writing, editing, and review of content, a big part of which consisted of the voluminous photos and labels of artworks and other ingredients that are familiar among editors and publishers.

These factors, however, worked in its favor, for its release highlighted elements of the book that evoked similar meaning on the themes of two annual events, the closing of the Philippine Arts Month (February) and the entry of the National Women’s Month (March).

Unintentional as it may have appeared, the launching of the Iloilo Art Book captivated the temperament of these events. On the one hand, it fulfills Iloilo City’s noble contribution to Arts Month. At the same time, it honors the role that women play in our society with its cover featuring the painting of Gerundio Buendia, Jr. titled Abundance, which shows a main image of a Filipino woman working together with community folks in the countryside.

These elements were further amplified by the rich body of work of female Ilonggo artists in the book and the prominent role played by the female civic leader who led its realization, the Project Executive Director and Iloilo City First Lady Rosalie S. Treñas, together with the dedicated women public servants in the team.

These tidbits add an exciting facet to the narrative of the first edition. Expectedly, there will be follow-through editions of the book and probably a perfected version on hardbound. Here’s my take on the book.

First, the book is a pioneering work of the local government and the chief executive, which must be understood from that perspective. In the words of Samuel Adams, “give credit to who credit is due,” and credit goes to Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas in line with his administration’s arts development agenda. He acknowledges that his efforts usually materialize with the cooperation and contribution of the members of the art sector: local artists, arts groups, the private sector, national government agencies, and national leaders.

Second, the Iloilo Art Book is a consolidated documentation material. Setting aside technical and editorial lapses from the quality of material, book design, down to consistency of the layout; the 200 pages book is a memento worth owning. It has 10 parts with messages from movants of local arts, a historical timeline, feature articles, an art catalog with a short bio of art groups and a list of artists, and documentation of art events, namely: the Iloilo Arts Festival in 2021 and the Iloilo Art Pop-Up Studio in 2022, directory of artists, and acknowledgments page.

In my humble experience covering art events, I have observed that good documentation work is usually aspired for but sacrificed for lack of technical ability or financial capacity. This aspect goes beyond the artmaking of artists, yet it serves a vital purpose in the overall packaging, which now includes social media.

The Iloilo Art Book is a valuable material to showcase the programs of the local government, promote local arts, invite collectors and scholars to the city, foster collaboration and partnership for investments, gather the support of the national government and the diplomatic community. It serves as a reference material with which the artists can build upon future documentation work or enhance existing ones.

Lastly, the book heralds the vibrant life of the Iloilo visual arts community and a celebration of the Ilonggo talent. A caveat, the adjective is not intended to make everyone believe that Iloilo City has a vibrant visual arts community because it has published an Iloilo Art Book. Let us leave the local artists, cultural workers, media watchdogs, competent journalists, and historians to debate what makes the community vibrant or whether that is real or imagined.

On various occasions, Ed Defensor underscored that, unlike in past decades, the local visual arts sector is in a better situation today, having the support of the local government and the private sector. Defensor is trying to impart a message that the new generation of artists is likewise revolving around the political context of the times. Good documentation that captures the events and debates shaping the present may serve well as anchors of future discussions.

I consider the Iloilo Art Book a significant undertaking within this context. It functions as a forward and backward link to the history of the local arts community. The showcase of artworks on its pages serves as a searing reminder of the rich Ilonggo talent, the visual arts sector’s colorful and turbulent past that resulted in divisions, and the coming together of individuals and groups after storms to share events and milestones that brought pride to Iloilo.