Sharing artworks, exchanging cultures

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 5 Aug) – Images of people’s movements portrayed with layered oil-based colours on canvases filled the white walls of the two-story M Gallery at Samsenthai Road in this city.

The paintings were created by two artists, a Filipino and a Lao, whose chance of meeting each other was only due to the joint exhibit dubbed “Philippines-Laos Perspectives: Motives and Movements”, held from July 26 to August 2.

John Paul Antido, the Filipino exhibitor, who came here for the first time, said in an interview Monday he began learning about Laos and its people and culture when the Philippine Embassy in Lao PDR and the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) invited him to hold an exhibit here six months ago.

Aiming to share the Filipinos’ adaptation to modernisation while keeping their traditions, this 31-year-old artist’s images show the common people in their course of travelling by jeepney (Philippine-style customised vehicle), cargo ship, motorbike, and wooden-wheeled cart.

He said he executed all his pieces Shipment, Gone with the Wind, Distant Traveler, Flower Rush, Country Maiden, Traveling Musician, Flying Fish, and Shuttle Service in the last three months after conceptualising and sketching.

“They are a combination of old and contemporary Filipino lifestyles,” he told Vientiane Times , citing his portraits of women in Filipiniana dress, one of them is on a motorbike, towing a cart full of flowers, and the other holding a mobile phone.

One of his paintings in horizontal canvas shows a full-packed jeepney with people from different walks of life such as a man cradling farm products; a sophisticated lady putting lipstick with a mirror in her other hand; and a boy using earphones and an electronic gadget.

The Shipment portrays a small ferry packed vertically with people and goods, a tall tree in the middle, and a string of banderitas (small banners) as if binding the entire juxtaposed elements.

Antido said Filipinos “take risk in migration for greener pasture”, which somehow describes most overseas Filipino workers “a diaspora”.

“We are naturally adaptive,” he said, adding that Filipinos are able to survive in any place and situation.

Through Antido’s paintings in the exhibit, the 30-year-old Lao artist, Sivilay Souvannasing, became interested in Filipino culture, which, according to him, is not largely different from that of Lao.

“I like his independent painting style. I want to try to paint about Filipinos but I need more time to learn about their culture,” Sivilay said in a separate interview.

He explained that if he will paint about a group of people, he should integrate with them and experience their conditions as how he was able to paint about the Hmong tribe, one of the largest ethnic tribes in Laos, which is the subject in the exhibit.

He said he had visited Xieng Khouang province here three times for a total of four weeks before painting about the Hmong people, who are shown in his artworks in constant mobility, traversing by groups the curvy and cascading paths on the mountains, while heaving loads of chopped woods and other farm products.

The Hmong tribe – as depicted in his paintings crossing the river, playing with tops, at sunset, dancing, in the market, and walking back from work – has unique culture and traditions among the diverse cultures of Lao ethnic groups.

Laos has over 68 ethnic groups.

Like the Filipinos in Antido’s paintings, the Hmong people have similarly adapted to modernisation as shown in Sivilay’s work “Hmong on Bicycle”.

“But, despite riding on bicycles rather than horses as the old means of transporting goods, the Hmong people still carry big loads at their back,” he said, pointing to the backpack of a subject on a bike.

All in bright and strong colours “dominated by vermillion and cerulean hues”, which created a feel of sunrise and sunset, Sivilay’s art works speak of preservation of culture, according to Antido.

He said the influence of other cultures such as that of the westerners is “inevitable”, adding that it is equally important “to keep our cultural backgrounds.”

“That’s why there are artists to immortalise culture,” he stressed.

Admitting that there is an unspoken threat of loss of traditions and ethnic cultures, Sivilay said choosing the Hmong tribe as his subject will somehow introduce such culture to foreigners.

Foreigners will be interested to know more about the Hmong people and might want to visit their villages, such as that in Xieng Khouang, by showing the tribesmen’s daily life.

He said like all other ethnic tribes in Laos, the Hmong bears an important role in preserving the Lao culture as he observed that its exposure has been seldom nowadays. He cited that there are many interesting things about the Hmong culture such as the 15-day New Year festival, “kin chieng,” that usually falls from end of December to mid-January.

“They showcase their traditional clothes, playing tops, tossing ball, sharing of traditional foods, talent shows and beauty contest,” he added.

Having visited Laos and found new friendship with fellow artists here through Sivilay, Antido said he planned to create artworks about the country’s people, such as Lao women on motorbikes, wearing the traditional Lao skirt or sinh.

Maria Lumen Isleta, the Philippine Ambassador to Lao PDR, said the joint exhibit is “an exciting cultural nexus in both countries’ close to six decades long history of relations and in creating that sense of community in the region.”

She said the physical geographies of Laos and the Philippines “pose no hindrance to cooperation and collaboration” and that “geography and distance only serve to heighten the enthusiasm to know more of the other, especially as regional integration looms in the horizon.”

[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.]