An Insider Look at Cavite's Underrated Art Scene

In Cavite, artists live and die by street art.
IMAGE Jasrelle Serrano

There’s nothing refined about the Cavite art scene. It’s raw, gritty, and flawed—art in its most visceral form. You’d be hard-pressed to find fancy galleries in this part of the south. You only find art if you look for it, because it's presence isn't declared, but only alluded to by roadside graffiti and word of mouth.

But it’s there. Despite the suburban or rural façade of this little corner of the world, Cavite has an underground art scene full of underrated talent.

I am no artist, merely a local and an observer, an art scene outsider who has never felt excluded. And this is what I see.

The camp was homey and raw. It felt nothing like the usual art exhibit.

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

Avant-garde electronic group Elemento known for using musical assemblage

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

A community first and foremost

A little over a week ago, Caviteños from all walks of life came together for a three-day arts festival, where people pitched their tents and set up stalls and also enjoyed the countless exhibits, art installations, waterfalls, and trekking trails on the camp grounds.

Aptly named Paghilom 2, the festival was held in Alitaptap Artist Village in Amadeo, Cavite. It was art in the great outdoors. It was essentially a local rendition of Woodstock.

Far from the main road, the out-of-the-way location only added its mystique. A long and winding dirt road opened to a vast stretch of land, the Alitaptap Artist Village, which boasts of its own farm and hidden waterfalls. Scattered under the canopy of trees were artworks by local legends, transforming the camp grounds into a garden of art. It doesn’t get more down to earth than that.

A long and winding dirt road opened to a vast stretch of land, the Alitaptap Artist Village, which boasts of its own farm and hidden waterfalls.

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

We arrived on the last day, and the clearing was dotted with tents, booths, and hammocks. There were plots of ashes lying in between campsites, a sign of campfires that were lit in the previous nights. I could only imagine the number of stories that were shared around the fire.

If my nose was right, someone was cooking Maling. Stalls offering henna tattoos, underground zines, indigenous jewelry, handmade crafts and pottery, and of course, beer (in true Cavite fashion) were open. The entire scene was framed by wooden art decorations hanging from the trees, dreamcatchers strewn here and there, and painted tires that became the children’s playground.

That was something that caught my attention, the number of children. From toddlers to teenagers, there were a lot of kids playing tag or hanging out on the branches of big trees. At other art events, attendees are usually older, 18 and up, but at Paghilom, families camped and cooked together. There was no specific age range or demographic. What they shared was the joy of getting away from the rest of the world, even for a few days.

It was an intimate setup, barely pushing 300, but that only added to the homey vibes in the camp. Everyone was an old classmate, a neighbor they've yet to meet, or a friend of a friend (of a friend). Hell, I even ran into an old college professor of mine and also recognized familiar faces from the music gigs of years ago.

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

In the days preceding, renowned artists, from rising street artist-activist Archie Oclos to National Artist Kidlat Tahimik, were invited to engage in the discourse on Philippine art. Contemporary artist Anjo Bolardo of Vinyl and Vinyl also participated with a waiting shed mural project that gave homage to the Amadeo community.

Workshops, martial arts demos, art talks, and more kept everyone occupied. The festivel was capped off by a concert with the likes of Joey Ayala, Chickoy Pura of the Jerks, The Wuds, The Borrachos, and Datu’s Tribe. Featuring music from yesteryears, the concert was obviously organized by and for titos, yet even the youngsters enjoyed revisiting the glory days of old-school OPM.

In the end, it was more than an arts festival; it became a gathering that celebrated the community that the Cavite art scene fosters. I’m no artist by any means, but a day at Paghilom made me feel like I was. It was a congregation that practiced an inclusivity powered by the collective energy to keep the local arts scene alive. A little rustic and rough around the edges, that’s pretty much the Cavite art scene in a nutshell.

Joey Ayala was one of the musical guests.

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

Bobby Balingit of the WUDS band

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

IMAGE: Jasrelle Serrano

Street legends

Art here starts at the grassroots, and with the growing urbanization of certain parts of the province, that means the streets. After moving to the city, I found something missing in my everyday commute to work: the roadside graffiti that was a part of my youth. This is not the type of vandalism common in the metro or the commissioned murals on the side of corporate buildings, but the graffiti made by local art groups on their wall-hunting trips throughout the province. Lowbrow art as they call it, Cavite street art has caught the attention of many locals throughout the years.

In 2018, freelance photographer Abes Abian proved photography could be a part of street art when he put up a series of posters of people yawning along the main roads of Cavite. The project titled “A Portraiture and Wheatpaste study on the said contagious effects of yawning. Inspired from the lyrics of Nas” gained online momentum, and was soon followed by another project, “If These Walls Could Talk,” (the title was inspired by Kendrick Lamar), which protested pollution and the illegal dumping of garbage.

Both projects were assisted by WLRS Krew, an art collective with their own solid reputation. An acronym of “Writing Life on Random Surfaces,” WLRS’ often humorous murals can be spotted along Aguinaldo Highway, interspersed with another group’s work, Cavity Collective. One of their artists, MOKS, has taken his street art all the way to Dubai, while another, BLIC, has become a local legend in his own right with his unique focus on human hands.

Other homegrown talents are Alelia Ariola, an empowered female artist who paints other empowered females, and Lirio Salvador, an experimental musician and sculptor who recycles metal scraps into musical instruments called sandata. Emmannuel Garibay needs no introduction: The social realism artist, whose studio is in Cavite, has been a name in the industry for decades now. This is but a few of the artists in the Cavite art scene, which largely lives—and thrives—out of the public eye.

And perhaps that’s the way it should be: art that remains obscure and largely untouched, an entire world existing underground, a refuge from all the noise.

While the art scene in the city makes a strong case for Philippine art, there is a disconnect caused by the need to appeal to the market. But in places like Cavite and hopefully other communities outside and inside the metro, progressive, alternative art communities exist with the intention of returning to our roots, to what is art and why it means so much to us in the first place.

Emancipated by the influence of establishments and outside forces, here is a scene reborn as a safe space. Whether that’s through community gatherings like Paghilom or art collectives like WLRS and Cavity, Cavite’s eco-system allows artist to pursue their art as they please: organic, raw, and borne from inclusivity and human understanding.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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