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.]


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.

Martha Atienza’s 11°16’58.4”N 123°45’07.0”E (2017) / single channel HD video, (00:01:12:00 min, loop), no sound (LED Wall) / November 8-11, 2018 on City Hall Facade, Roxas / Filmed in Madridejos, Bantayan Island / An ati-atihan parade underwater, with attendees wearing placards that say, “Drug Lord Ko,” plays on the theme of corruption as corporate sponsorship in the socio-economic landscape of the islands

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!

Bantayan artists VIVA2018: Photographer Jinri Layese, video artist Martha Atienza, filmmaker Roberth Fuentes, &moi

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Beyond Hyperstition: Imaging the Future

November 5, 2018: Today, a legally ordained no-work holiday across Negros Occidental, is the Pintaflores Festival street dance competition & flower dance rituals in the San Carlos City auditorium. Costumed as flowers, plants, stems, roots, trees, princesses, priestesses, paper bags & nature-worshipping peoples, the streets of this quiet port city (what one resident described as “normally a ghost town”) have now erupted in the height of carnival celebration.

Each entry, from the elementary to barangay category, is led by a designated Princess Nabingka; it is considered a dignified honor to be chosen!

I felt incredibly blessed to be here & now – and at the same space-time, I innately feel transported to alternative realm. The concept of ‘liminality, as used by early anthropologist of performance Victor Turner, describes the space of ‘in-betweenness‘ which ritual conjures. Yet, in attempting to re-member my experience of Pintaflores, ‘liminal’ would be too weak of a word; I felt the past projected in future worlds.

Dancing flowers, plants blooming on the concrete…

Plural histories constitute the ritual of Pintaflores (1) a celebration for the beloved pre-Spanish settler-colonial princess “Nabingka” & her Negrito peoples of “Nabingkalan” cured by tattooed & planted flowers; 2) a feast day for San Carlos Borromeo, the Catholic saint whom the town is renamed after by a Spanish priest who arrived in the late 1800’s; 3) an invention of the local government tourism office in the early 1990’s, which combined the successful Nabingkalan Tattoo Festival & Dance of Flowers into one hybrid super-myth event).

The festival spectacle compresses multiple historical timelines and popular feedback loops, dancing with the past – and imaging futures based off fictionalization of myth. 

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Spiritual Ecology & Visayan Theater Arts

November 4, 2018: Although the story behind Pintaflores Festival borrows a myth about pre-Spanish Visayan princesses & priestesses, the festival actually celebrates the Feast Day of San Carlos (Saint Charles) Borromeo, the patron saint whom the town San Carlos City is named after.

What appears to be festive carnival of ethnic-inspired aesthetics is, in fact, rooted in religious ritual. One of the events during Pintaflores Festival demonstrated the role of the church as a powerful site not only for faith-based ritual, but for community theater arts and ecological activism. 

Upon the bishop’s arrival, a few seconds before the start of Sunday mass, another priest snaps a selfie with the crew 😀 “Is nothing sacred anymore?” Hehe #itsmorefunnyinthephilippines

Churches are, architecturally, similar to theaters; with two entrances on the left and right, a stage and a seated audience, churches offer a ritual space outside of everyday life. Stories in Christianity echoes a primal narrative structure of the cycle of life and death through representations of incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection. Whether as priest or devotee, actor or spectator, one must involve oneself in the reproduction of the symbolic image & submit oneself to an ‘otherworld’ time.  Thus, there is a natural relationship of churches to the symbolic and temporary realm of theater.

from Kanlaon Theater Guild


The bishop invited leading Visayan theater arts directors Rudy Reveche, Tanya Lopez and Ricardo Salnap, Jr. to demonstrate work under the theme of environmental awareness.

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Beauty in the Eye of Beholders

Like rice to our meals, beauty pageants are a staple to Visayan festivals. The glamorization of beauty aesthetic is as much part of celebration as the street dance competition or community procession. The beauty pageant for Miss San Carlos City 2018 proved to be no different. Yet, it far exceeded my expectations of what a beauty pageant might be, or is becoming.

The story goes that Princess Nabingka, a warrior leader from Cebu, sailed her peoples to nearby island, which they named Nabingkalan (the original name for San Carlos City, before its conversion to Christianity). But upon arrival, she fell ill. The community priestess, the babaylan, ordered everyone to plant flowers as a treatment for her sickness. When that did not work, the babaylan realized she needed to tattoo a flower directly on the princess to cure her. To honor this successful remedy, whole town covered themselves in flower tattoos.

At first, I felt skeptical of this story. Is this a real oral tale or a ready-made reason to street party and stage pageantry? Yet as someone with two flower tattoos, one of which healed hurtful memories of burn scars, I also felt strangely gravitated to the story of this princess warrior… But after the show, I’m now a full-blown convert to this myth!!

In the opening scene, contestants paraded as costumed avatars of Princess Nabingka. Whatever she may have looked like in the long distant past, today’s princess channels a modern, neo-tribal aesthetic.  During the swimsuit section, background videos from the body painting and digital photography work of Eric Estampador Cabales set the stage for the spectacle. 

While the conversion of Christianity forced the community to let go of traditional tattoo culture (or drove it underground), Pintaflores Festival’s celebration around the princess tale of flower tattoos helped catapult body painting as a popular art form. 

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Buglasan Festival of Festivals of Festivals

Elsewhere on the island of Negros… In October, while I stayed in Bacolod for MassKara Festival (& recovering from a heat flash fever), I realized I overlooked another important festival happening five hours south, Buglasan Festival in Dumaguete, celebrating all the municipalities of Negros Oriental.

from “No work, no classes in Negros Oriental on ‘Buglasan Day’”

In some old records the map of Negros was drawn by a man named Diego Lopez Povedano way back in 1572 showing an island named Buglas Insulis. In order to honor Negros Oriental and what lie is in it, the celebration of Buglasan Festival was born. The word “Buglas” in Ilonggo means “to cut off”. Controversial to its meaning Buglasan Festival unites different cities, municipalities and small towns all over Negros Oriental. from

So sad to have missed this 😦 😦 😦 Next year na lang, adto ko!!!

Alas, this is the nature of studying Visayan festivals and fiestas, which are constantly springing up across the island archipelago, from small barangays to large municipalities. Thankfully, via Youtube, I can pretend I am watching from the judge’s seat (to whom the theater & dance spectacle is oriented):


Electric MassKara: Escape or Export?

Festivals celebrate the past in the present & pave way for futures: The final MassKara Festival weekend kicked off with an LED-lit moving float competition on Lacson Street, which turned a town’s main street into an immersive tourist strip. 


A Coca-Cola sponsored “Electric Zumba” event started the festival’s sugar-high vibes, with two macho male dancers from Cebu leading a group of mostly middle-aged and older women into mass choreographed dance spectacleIntuitively, it felt contradictory that a high-calorie sugar-filled drink would be the sponsor for a fitness dance class, but alas, it attracted the attendants to participate and mesmerized their audience to spectate – & fun cannot be computed in the rational realm!


Though wildly hypnotic, amidst  immersive LED-lights & sound-speaker blasted electronic dance music, I also felt a bit dizzy from the flood of electro-data stimulation. As I’m writing this, almost one month since the event, I’m still struggling to give words to the experience. How to make ‘sense’ from sensory overload? >>

Continue reading “Electric MassKara: Escape or Export?”