Bong Dela Torre

I have always meant to write this but it took me a while because recollecting the process and gamut of things that happened towards opening the Weave of Hope exhibit can be overwhelming to put on paper.

But at this juncture, please indulge me as I look back and trace the creative process from the initial Zoom meeting last May, where 350 Asia pitched the concept of curating a pan-Asian art platform and space to strengthen 350 Asia’s vision of combining creativity and solidarity into a tapestry of resistance in fighting for what we love and cherish in the middle of the climate crisis.

This was the start of the ongoing conversation about common practices of weaving threads and turning them into clothes and other materials that address basic needs such as shelter and clothing, but at the same time are integral to their culture or how the community captures the significance of our surroundings through the arts.

The revolution must be organized

Following through from the initial pitch that I delivered in the first call, together with my comrades Fread De Mesa and Johnny Guarin, we started the conceptualization process with the intent of arriving at a consensus on the nominated environmental defenders to be featured in the artworks.

It was after the constant discussions of the idea behind the Weave of Hope that we decided to title our exhibit, “Woven by Blood” to pay tribute and celebrate the life, death, and the continuing struggle of the three grandmothers that were featured on the artworks. Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, Gloria Capitan, and Vertrudez “Daisy” Macapanpan whose lives of inspiring action challenge us to continue the bloodline of stewardship and defense of communities and ecosystems from development aggression and abuse of power, which we hope served as an invitation for the audience to continue the bloodline of heroism in the defense of people and our planet.

Knowing full well that we will have difficulty in organizing the exhibit by ourselves, we decided to reach out to the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP) and Kalikasan Peoples’ Network for the Environment (Kalikasan) to ask them if they’re interested in co-organizing the exhibit which they generously agreed to do.

YACAP committed to provide spokespersons, invite their youth networks, and provide a vehicle to transport the exhibit to the venue, while Kalikasan agreed to become a co-organizer and offered to provide exhibit panels and integrate their protest artworks in the exhibit.

To establish rapport with the community organizations of the featured activists, we also joined and attended events/activities they organized to help advance our shared advocacy and interests to be highlighted in the exhibit.

In selecting the venue, we tried to put forward criteria that placed primacy on the art gallery’s accessibility to our intended audience; this was what led us towards selecting Cubao Expo since any place in Metro Manila can access it by public transportation.

We chose Silingan Coffee, given its character and shared values with 350 on human rights, we also selected it as our way of pitching in to support the widows and orphans of the killings that were perpetrated by former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent regime. We wrote to their management to pitch the exhibit and share the concept note. After a series of meetings, we were about to secure the venue and in the weeks preceding the exhibit we held a series of ocular inspections to measure the space dimensions and to plan the layout of the exhibit.

We also tapped performers within the network of artists that have a shared value with 350 on climate justice and human rights.

The Artworks
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a double-sided 1x1meter mixed-medium painting collaboration between Johnny and myself who painted each side using our distinct styles.

One side features a wheat-paste collage of Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, Gloria Capitan, and Daisy Macapanpan superimposed on an oil painting on canvas that provides context to the form of development aggression they are resisting as interpreted by Johnny.

The other side features an oil on canvas painting by myself that has Indigenous threads and cloth to lay texture on the portrait of Capitan, Ligkayan Bigkay and Macapanpan dancing among a menagerie of flowers and seemingly inviting the viewer into a portal which can be seen as a doorway towards seeing the world in a different light–one that recognizes the importance of continuing the intergenerational struggle to protect life in its diversity.

The centerpiece hangs suspended in the middle of the exhibit venue supported by abaca ropes, and its perimeter is adorned with woven abaca that partially function as a cover for the artwork before it was unveiled at the opening ceremony.

At the entrance of the exhibit was a circular mat made of woven buri that contains a Tagalog verse from a poem written by Jams Gacita, a 350 Pilipinas volunteer who passed away last January due to aneurysm. The quote reads: “binaliktad ko ang alala, alala parin” (I tried to invert memory, but it was still memory), ‘alala’ is the Tagalog word for ‘memory’ and it still spelled the same even if you reverse the sequence of letters that make the word, that is to say that we are living in an eternal present that we can only navigate through constant dialogue with the past.

The exhibit also featured another painting made by Johnny called “Development Aggression”, which highlights the active role played by Indigenous peoples in resisting development that comes at the expense of ecosystems and their communities.

While the rest of the walls were adorned with placards that featured portraits of fallen environmental defenders, which were used by Kalikasan on public mobilizations, especially during the International Human Rights Day.

Art as a bridge between the personal and the political

They say that art is the mirror of people’s unspoken feelings towards the world and their experiences living under very specific historical and material conditions.

This is more pronounced in the lived reality of the grandmothers that were featured by the artists as it aimed to pay homage to those who not only led the way but also sowed the seeds of active defense for our ecosystems

I would like to believe that there is an emergent culture of resistance particularly in the arena of environmental advocacy and struggle in the Philippines.

The Weave of Hope holds promise–the potential of a continuing creative assertion in the whole region against the onslaught of development aggression, by weaving in our struggles to tell our stories with the hope of connecting them to the bigger picture.

As human beings working to make sense of our social predicament, striving to find hope and strength in a world gone awry, as we witness the diversity of our lives, and acknowledge our dissimilarities in this variedness hopefully, we experience our common humanity.

Edwin Gonzales dela Torre (Bong) is a theater artist with an ardent engagement in the local visual art scene. He has been an active volunteer at 350 Pilipinas since 2015. Photo: Kathleen Lei Limayo