Books & Art

These Artists Painted Whang-Od's Small Village in Kalinga with Street Art

It was a collaboration with the local Buscalan village people.
IMAGE Commune Artists
ILLUSTRATOR Ralph Eya, Archie Oclos

Buscalan is a small village in the province of Kalinga, 180 kilometers north of Baguio. In a tiny house on its southern end lives Apo Whang-od, the last mambabatok (tattooist) of her generation. She uses a small wooden tool tipped with a thorn from a pomelo tree to apply her ink. Her influence on Buscalan is one of the reasons why a group of street artists chose to collaborate with the villagers with art.

“Buscalan was the first choice because communal mentality is very much alive among the locals there,” says Archie Oclos, who initiated the project. “Although they look modernized and live in modern houses, they are still rooted in traditional beliefs and way of life. It was also a good opportunity for artists to learn from the people of Buscalan who are the teachers and authors of their own culture.”

11 Artists Collaborate with Kalinga Folk

As a street artist, Oclos raises social awareness through his murals. He frequently features indigenous peoples and farmers to show their plights. This time around, he led a team of 11 artists to collaborate with the indigenous peoples in Buscalan village in Kalinga to learn about their livelihood, traditions, and art.

We spoke to some of the artists.

“Karapatan sa Sariling Pagpapasya” ("Right to Self-determination") by Archie Oclos

IMAGE: Commune Artists, ILLUSTRATOR: Archie Oclos

“I based my piece on the stories of the indigenous group and the local homeowners, about how they bring in commercial products up here in the mountains,” says Oclos. “They know that they need those products to sustain their living, but in the process, they also recognize that they too become dependent of the existing system of commerce.”

“Tagpuan” by Bvdot

IMAGE: Commune Artists, ILLUSTRATOR: Bvdot

Bvdot’s “Tagpuan” is based on his experience and the story of the Butbut tribe of Kalinga. “Working and immersing with communities made me realize that wherever we go, we must respect each other’s traditions and ways of life,” Bvdot shares.

Mural by Kookoo Ramos

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IMAGE: Commune Artists, ILLUSTRATOR: Kookoo Ramos

Kookoo Ramos’ mural was inspired by the women of Buscalan. “From what I saw in Buscalan village, the role of women was simple but truly relevant for them,” she recalls. “Tunay silang ilaw ng tahanan, no need for me to exaggerate, twist, or create a more aesthetically appealing statement piece.”

“We are Warriors” by Ralph Eya

IMAGE: Commune Artists, ILLUSTRATOR: Ralph Eya

For Ralph Eya, the entire project, not just his artwork, is a testament to social participation. “It is not just about murals or artworks placed in a community setting, nor just another buzzword we lightly use in art practice. It is about co-creating. It is about evolving together. Community art is activism.”

Mural by Kris Abrigo

IMAGE: Commune Artists, ILLUSTRATOR: Kris Abrigo

Urban artist Kris Abrigo breathes life into ordinary concrete. “It’s about transforming basic local concrete architecture, including the barangay hall, into something that represents the people, and reflects the place around it, focusing only on the essential, recognizable, and significant objects that the viewers can relate to,” he says.

Murals by Sim Tolentino

IMAGE: Commune Artists, ILLUSTRATOR: Sim Tolentino
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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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