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[IRL] A GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento



IRL stands for Iloilo Represents Life. I first became poignantly aware of the human impulse to beautify their surroundings during a long-ago visit to Victorias, Negros Occidental whose inhabitants share the Ilonggo or Hiligaynon language with most of Panay. That was in the aftermath of the famine. Indifferent to the livid painted gaze of Alfonso Ossorio's Angry Christ, thousands of little children had suffered relentless hunger. One of a motley group of visiting women journalists wanted to see for herself the characteristics of Philippine rural poverty, as compared to what was familiar to her back home in urban Mumbai. Thus, that muggy, drizzly afternoon, after lunch at the Victorias Golf and Country Club, we writers went with her and wandered desultorily among the sacadas' thatched huts, along the hacienda's barren peripheries.


I crossed the threshold of one such hut, onto a densely packed dirt floor whose relative hardness was all that differentiated it from the mud outdoors. This ramshackle assortment of bamboo, grass and reeds which could have fit in my bathroom, was shelter for a family of nine, grandparents included. The lady of the house scuttled towards me on her knees. She diffidently dabbed at my mud-spattered ankles and shoes with what might have been the cleanest cloth they owned. Embarrassed by her ministrations, I urged her to stop. Mortified, I raised my gaze from her bowed head: the sawali walls were hung with frieze of flowers in bloom: painstakingly limned in black ballpoint pen on bond paper, with the outlines carefully colored in with crayons. Despite such unprepossessing surroundings, with kith and kin barely subsisting on less than the statistical US Dollar a Day, the urge to be in the presence of beauty prevailed--even if one had to create it oneself with the most limited means and in the unfriendliest of circumstances.


In the last decade or so, the public spaces of the Hiligaynon or Kinaray-a speaking peoples have expanded and witnessed such a blossoming of art. The Bacolod Art District is one such oasis. Iloilo may not have such a large dedicated area of homogeneous real estate, but there is plenty of public art busting out all over. Even the plazas might be considered a form of communal art space with live human figures in a landscape, that hopefully remains more naturally living green, rather than commercially cemented over.

In January 2020, before the pandemic shut much of the world down, Iloilo City’s overpasses and strategically selected walls were canvasses for 12 new murals serendipitously timed to coincide with the last Dinagyang. This was not a dying gasp but a breathing spell, as this year when the pandemic became endemic, revenge travelers and tourists descended upon Iloilo to celebrate the Dinagyang with a vengeance, and to memorialize their visits with selfies and grouphies before these painted man-made marvels.


The celebration continued with Museum Month in May. KAON NA ‘TA [Let’s Eat, Everyone] the largest show in ILOMOCA’s (Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art) young history is also the occasion for the installation of more murals along the Festive Walk. For those without the wherewithal to pay the modest entrance fees to view the exhibits spanning ILOMOCA’s 3 stories of sprawling galleries (P100 for students; P120 for senior citizens and P150 for everyone else) they can enjoy public artwork while malling this time, instead of as pedestrians or commuters.


All art that deserves to be called art should stimulate thought and feeling—even when this not aesthetic pleasure, but rather shock or annoyance at being prodded out of one’s comfort zone. After all, true art is “Una cose mentale,” or a mental object, as the genius Leonardo Da Vinci said. Let the marketplace of ideas continue to thrive throughout the democratic space that is Iloilo City as a thousand flowers bloom.




AxD was done by by ARvin Nogueras from Manila and Da Da from Guimaras Island
AxD was done by by Arvin Nogueras from Manila and Da Da from Guimaras Island

RxJ was done by Romeo Lee (Manila) and Jason Rufino (Capiz)
RxJ was done by Romeo Lee (Manila) and Jason Rufino (Capiz)

ExM was done by Marija Vicente (Manila) and EyeCan Creatives (Roxas City)
ExM was done by Marija Vicente (Manila) and EyeCan Creatives (Roxas City)


PxJ was done by Pow MArtinez (Manila) and Janine Tolores (Aklan)
PxJ was done by Pow MArtinez (Manila) and Janine Tolores (Aklan)


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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (Iloilo Represents Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.

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