November 8-11, 2018
“VIVA EXCON, the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition & Conference, was initiated by Black Artists in Asia (BAA) in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, in 1990. Conceived as a biennial, VIVA EXCON has since been staged in Dumaguete, Iloilo, Cebu, Leyte, Bohol and Samar. The last VIVA EXCON was held in Iloilo in 2016 attended by over 350 delegates and guests.
[VIVA EXCON] was an attempt to bridge the islands by linking-up art communities, to provide a venue for sharing knowledge, to discuss issues affecting artmaking in the region, and to consolidate the Visayan art scene. It was created to address the specific urgencies of Visayan artists & cultural workers persisting in the shadows of Manila’s cultural imperialism.
Guided by the curatorial theme “Don’t even bring water (Bisan tubig di magbalon),” a line from the Visayan folk ballad Dandansoy, the exhibitions focus on the aspiration of returning to one’s roots. In the face of limited resources and opportunities, it has been common to desire for the global stage, neglecting in the process one’s place of origin. Each work is a consolatory testament to this economy of means as each artist searches for spaces and semblances of home that require no geographical anchoring.” –VIVA EXCON CAPIZ 2018 website
In the synchronicity of the festival flow, I felt extremely lucky to have attended the 15th edition of VIVA EXCON – the longest running biennial in the Philippines – from November 8-11, 2018 in Roxas City, Capiz Province, Panay Island. (As I’m finally posting my notes, in text and video draft, 3 (!!!) months later, I can also say its rich density of information likewise required many months of re-vision, re-turning, re-wiring my direction, in an endless drifting).
[If you are interested in reading write-ups of exhibitions and events by art writers and journalists, please do check out the published articles by Harry Burke, Mariah Reodica in The Philippine Star and Dominic Zinampan in AsiaArtPacific. In this post, I wanted to entangle the multiple, knotty, network of discourses that most resonated with me. What I have here is a series of bullet notes, with no target on site.]
“RETURN TO ROOTS”
VIVA EXCON 2018’s theme to “return to the roots” (Peewee Roldan, one of the co-founders of VIVA, is originally from Roxas City) is impactful for an islander, tribal, marine-based, migrant, diasporic community like the Visayas. Even the root word “Visaya” comes from the Sanskrit/Buddhist/Hindu/(etc) etymology describing an “object of knowledge/affection that changes when you get closer,” delineating a kind of “administrative unit” at the edge of the empire. “It is only from the roots that a tree grows,” a wise woman once said to me.
For me, from immigrant diaspora, the idea of ‘return’ is already a search of roots –my parents, their parents, come from one island, Bantayan (which translates to “watchtower”), which is central Visayan islands (its Cebuano dialect absorbs Hiligaynon & Waray languages), which is inter-island, inter-regional, inter-national, at the margins of the imperial center & nevertheless, a node in a global network. Humbling and joyous to meet other digital-media based artists from Bantayan!