Cast of Cool: Movers and Shakers in the Arts and Sciences

IMAGE Magic Liwanag

Visual Arts

Art Fair Philippines 2016: Featured Artists

Art Fair Philippines 2016’s featured artists (clockwise from far left): Mark Justiniani, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Raffy Napay, Mac Valdezco, Pam Yan Santos, and At Maculangan.

What embodies the word cool comes in many shapes and stories, and we have found that it’s not as much about prize, popularity, or aesthetic, as it is about identity, integrity, and the ability to be able to expand one’s mind—that, and a healthy dose of fresh rebellion. We may not have the last say on the subject, but if contemporary art and the artists who create it aren’t cool, then we don’t know who is. In both fact and metaphor, there is much truth to the assertion that “art is the new rock ’n’ roll,” and we doubt anyone would argue the coolness quotient of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, or Pepe Smith.


Trickie Lopa, one of the organizers of Art Fair Philippines, an annual art event on its fifth year in 2017, believes that the artists chosen to showcase their work at the fair’s special exhibit section are very cool, and we couldn’t agree more. “Our select artists fearlessly and vigorously pursue their craft without compromise. They do not worry about working outside the norm but take their work as far as they can,” she explains.

In 2016, the nine individuals were chosen to present their work at the special exhibits outside of gallery spaces include a whole spectrum of contemporary Filipino artists who have received both critical acclaim and commercial acceptance: Martha Atienza, Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, Nona Garcia, Mark Justiniani, At Maculangan, Raffy Napay, Mac Valdezco, and Pamela Yan Santos.

“We usually take a bit of time selecting which artists we want to invite to do solo presentations for the fair’s special exhibits,” Trickie continues. “It takes us three or four meetings, and a few spirited discussions, to pare down our selections.”

As the fair is a powerful vehicle that will expose its audience to what is happening in Philippine contemporary art, the organizers strive to showcase work in different media. Last year, they featured contemporary photography for the first time, a category represented by At Maculangan.

Hosted by Bench, one of the fair’s co-presenters, the special exhibit section included a space that featured the work of Mac Valdezco, recipient of the special grant from Karen H. Montinola Selection. “The family of art collector Karen Hernandez Montinola wanted to honor her memory by bestowing a grant on one artist to do a special solo project for the fair every year. Karen passed away in 2012, and she was a close friend,” shares Trickie. “She loved nothing better than going around and discovering artists. When Pio Abad first exhibited in Silverlens, she was the only one who acquired one of his drawings! So it was fortuitous that that first Karen H. Montinola Selection was awarded to Pio for his AFP work in 2014. And Mike Adrao received the grant in 2015.”

watch now

The other artists included veterans in the biennale and museum circuit, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, whose pieces have graced prestigious art events like the Asia Pacific Triennale and the Venice and Liverpool Biennales to name a few. “We felt almost compelled to give fair visitors the opportunity to view what they do,” continues Trickie. The lineup also included a range of different art practices, from Justiniani’s mirrored objects, to Napay’s wall-bound thread on canvas pieces; Santos’ interactive installation; Valdezco’s painstakingly wrought sculpture, Garcia’s immense oil on canvas pieces, Maculangan’s contemporary photographs, and Atienza’s video.


Maoi Arroyo

Maoi Arroyo has one goal: to enable people to change their worlds. And whether this is achieved through science, entrepreneurship, or teaching—all of which she can excellently juggle (with a sense of humor to boot)—the task is not impossible. CEO and founder of Hybridigm Consulting, the pioneering innovation consulting firm in the Philippines, Maoi bridges science and business so that incredible inventions are made available to the public, working with our local labs but striving for worldwide influence. In one of her recent projects, Maoi, who has a master’s degree in Bioscience Enterprise from the University of Cambridge in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was involved in the construction of a mango waste bio-refining plant at the University of San Carlos, successfully transforming the waste of the dried mango industry into high-value products such as gluten-free flour, mango butter, and mango tea. This project provided former scavengers with housing and employment, supplied nutrition to the world, and created inclusive growth through innovation.


Though the task of making such significant contributions to society sounds overwhelming, Maoi is able to speak about her work with a casual gusto, rooted in pure sincerity and passion. “I love what I do so much, I’d do it even if no one noticed. I care about making a difference, not about fame.” And with multiple awards amassed in the span of 11 years of work under her belt—including 2015 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and the 2011 The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM)— it is this kind of spirit that keeps the fervor burning. That, and her unique point of view of the world. For the next generation of women, and probably something she also reminds herself, she advises: “You can have it all, just not all at the same time. Most importantly, you can choose not to have it all. You should create a life for yourself that truly resonates with who you are. Don’t buy into a dream that isn’t yours. Create a role if you have to, because there is something only you can bring to the world. There will always be someone younger, prettier, or smarter than you; but there will never be another you. Shine out. This tired world needs you.”

Vermen Verallo-Rowell

In dermatology, as in any medical field, someone has to be asking the research questions, developing hypotheses, experimenting, and making conclusions before innovations, more advanced technologies, and better medicines can be developed. With over 50 years of practice in cosmetic and clinical dermatology and over 150 published articles and studies, board-certified clinical and research dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, dermatopathologist, and clinical researcher Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell has long been that person.

Most of her work today involves clinical research and academic dermatology; a quarter of it is spent attending to patients at the VMV Research Center and Clinics and the Makati Medical Center. Many years of study set this path of continually improving her knowledge, teaching other doctors, and contributing to the field in greater ways. Many skincare products available around the world are, in fact, offshoots of Vermen’s clinical research. She was among the first to initiate studies on coconut oil and its monolaurin derivative, which was found to be antibacterial and antiviral, almost two decades ago. A number of her studies have been presented at international conferences and continue to be a reference for many. “I get requests from various parts of the world for copies of these studies nearly every week,” she says. Last year, she initiated the Dermatology Foundation of the Philippines, which has a vision to develop the academic researchers and teachers of tomorrow who will delve into the genetic, molecular microbiodata of the multi-heritage skin of Filipinos. “Examples are the way we react to drugs or even to the sun; the expression or mutation of our genes brought about by our environment, diet, and lifestyle; and another area for excellent evidence-based studies using the genes and molecules of our own cells are the effects of herbs and marine life the Philippines is richly endowed with,” she says. “Bottom line, drugs specific for our people, and cheaper too.”


No one leaves her clinic unchanged, patient or doctor. Known to go beyond diagnosing at face value, her patients include many who have failed other treatments and are referral cases. Last year, for instance, she treated a case of melasma that had long been unresponsive to traditional chemical and laser treatments by doing a photopatch test using various chemicals and energy sources like visible and infrared light to identify the cause.


Gian Romano

In the cycle of creation, there is no such thing as pulling away. You cannot really press pause, much less power off, because even in the small moments—looking out the window, for instance—you may find a spark in the view.

So it is for fashion designer Gian Romano. “Inspiration comes from everywhere, in the most unexpected things, time, and places,” he muses. “I feel like letting it come on its own makes the output more honest.” And what could be the inspiration behind the designer’s impressive 16-year output, a collection of clothes that can be described as an exploration of dark-cool glamour (picture structure and softness, draping and deconstruction, all in the shades of black, concrete gray, and white)? Gian doesn’t give specifics, which only adds to his allure. He only says that his sources vary and, in particular, he looks to his “travels, photographs, friends, and their works.”

The designer, who describes himself as a very visual person, starts with a single reference “and from there, I nurture its idea to create an entire feel.” And so somewhere between the object and the emotion, and after applying a mastery honed by years of experience in London, New York, and Manila, comes, for example, a fluid shirt whose sash-like draping transforms into a cowl. Pretty cool. You wonder what tandem of reference and feeling inspired the piece.

He wants you to feel what he feels—and also think. Of deconstruction, he says, “I like to inject the unexpected to something familiar, taking a detail from one familiar piece and placing it into another. I guess it’s more of altering your perception of things.” For his next collection, Gian is further developing the structured aesthetic of his past work. “I still want to play with different textures, but the feel is more utilitarian,” he says. “Some like to play with colors and prints, but playing with different textures and making them seem like they make sense, even though they don’t, appeals to me right now—the irony of things.”


But what happens when things don't really make sense? What does he do when he finds himself in a slump or a block? “I watch a lot of movies,” he offers. “Or I literally just do nothing. It clears the mind.”


Red Turnip

From left: Ana Abad Santos, Topper Fabregas, Cris Villonco, Rem Zamora, and Jenny Jamora

Formed in 2013 by theater veterans Ana Abad Santos, Topper Fabregas, Jenny Jamora, Cris Villonco, and Rem Zamora, Red Turnip’s rise to prominence in the country’s hyperactive theater scene has been nothing short of amazing. “Every show has been a highlight,” says Ana, who was tasked with directing the company’s first-ever show, Closer. “For sure,” chimes in Topper. “But for me, what amazes me most was the response of the people to our company. I could hardly believe that after the first play it had already made a mark.”

That might be due to the fact that Red Turnip strayed from the usual script—in the land where musicals win the most audiences, it went in the opposite direction, staging straight plays with barely any sets, the action happening within the audiences’ grasp. “We were embraced by an audience with whom the musical is king. I’d like to think that Red Turnip brought back the relevance of the straight play,” notes Rem, who’s directed the most of the group’s plays so far, including first season offering Cock and Time Stands Still, from the second season. “When we started, we realized we had a niche, that there were people who didn’t want happy endings always, who wanted something a bit experimental,” says Cris.

In 2015, Red Turnip shook things up a bit by introducing a musical element in its play for the first time, by staging 33 Variations. “That was interesting,” says Jenny, who directed that one, her first ever. “For that, we had to meet again and regroup to discuss not just our objectives and goals, but also our identity. We realized that despite its huge scope—we were not daunted, not like when we first planned it two years ago. We didn’t even consider the hurdles, we just did it.”


Romeo Lee

Romeo Lee

Who doesn’t know of Romeo Lee? The eccentric artist has had a cult following since his student days at the University of the Philippines, having gained notoriety as a pioneer of the Pinoy punk scene in the early 1980s and later as one of the more fascinating characters in the mountaineering and underground art circles. Today, he’s also recognized among music enthusiasts for his enviable collection of vintage audio gear, diligently sourced from his vast network of second-hand goods suppliers, which dovetails neatly with his reputation as the ukay-ukay king. To those who like watching electrifying musical acts, few can top Romeo’s showmanship as the frontman of the Brown Briefs, especially when he launches into their signature cover tune, “Wild Thing.”

While he’s been an artist for nearly 30 years, he’s never considered himself part of the mainstream but more of an outsider, due in part to his refusal to paint anything other than what he feels like. That’s slowly changing, though, as people have become more appreciative of his work (characterized by unusual colors, layers of dripping, swirling paint, and ghoulish imagery) helped in part by his growing skill in navigating social media, his friendship with a certain matinee idol, and the high praise from foreign publications whenever he holds shows abroad, either as a solo artist or as part of Manuel Ocampo’s group of artist friends, the so-called Bastards. “O, front page pa ’yan, ha!” he says with a smile, pointing to a French daily that covered a recent solo show, just one of several magazine and newspaper articles about him lying around his hopelessly shambolic bedroom.

He adopts a serious tone when reflecting on his career, dropping for once his irascible, quirky persona. The “old” artists, Romeo says—painfully accepting that he no longer is among the young ones—“have art in their blood,” having mastered their craft never with the intention to become millionaires, but only to bare their souls on stretched canvas for the viewer to see. “The young artists are lucky that they can now make a career out of it. Before, during the time of Roberto Chabet in U.P., no one was getting rich. We just held exhibits for the heck of it. If a holiday was coming up? Let’s hold an exhibit! Marcel Duchamp’s birthday? Let’s have a show! Ganun lang. It was fun. That’s it.”

Jay Yao

Jay Yao and Carlo Calma

For those who have the pleasure of knowing Jay Yao, the thirty-something photographer with striking blond hair, an intense gaze, and modest demeanor, it will come as no surprise to find that this engaging young man ends every e-mail with the tag, “Artist in Progress.” Jay is clearly an artist who wears his curiosity, earnestness, and passion on his sleeve.

Having grown up shuttling between Manila and Vancouver, he has always felt at home on both continents. He graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 2003, where he pursued his interest in the liberal arts through the study of Asians living in North America, graduating with a photo thesis about the Canadian Asian identity. Although he focused on photography at Hampshire, he also took courses in modern dance, sculpture, film, German literature, and globalization, subjects that continue to inform his craft today. After graduating, he made his way to New York City to launch his career as a photographer and has since exhibited around the globe. In 2013, he made his permanent return to Manila.

Aptly named “Homecoming,” his first show after moving back was held at Gallery Vask in 2013 and featured 14 large-format, fashion-inspired photographs of everyday people wearing the designs of celebrated fashion designers Joey Samson and Leslie Mobo in their hometowns of Cavite and Kalibo.

“Homecoming Too,” the next installment of the series, was staged at Art Informal in 2015. This time around, he attempted to recreate the childhood memories of designers Rajo Laurel, Patis Tesoro, Brian Tenorio, and Willar Mateo. “Fashion was a vehicle to get the conversation started in hearing people’s past, understanding their histories to see what inspires them, and their triumphs in sticking to their vision,” shares Jay.

“Homecoming” garnered critical attention and he was shortlisted for the 2014 Fernando Zobel Prize for the Visual Arts at the Ateneo Art Awards. “Understanding the Philippines, trying to understand it further through creating a set of exercises which involve collaborating with the designer on creative spaces and their memories related to their youth. It’s about re-exploring people’s memories, and also acknowledging the present,” says Jay.

These days, Jay keeps busy by working on projects that allow him to explore new materials. He is also working on the next chapter of his other notable series, “Skyscapes,” which debuted in Manila at Silverlens in 2012. He charges his powerful and memorable images to constant brainstorming and to intuitively working with his given skillset that allows him to move in a direction toward his personal artistic vision. In addition to capturing specific scenes, Jay will also take specific photos of the moment. “Sometimes I’ll stand in a specific area, or frame my camera in a specific direction waiting for something to happen. A person walks in the frame, a bird flies through... Or sometimes it’s spontaneous and there’s a specific wall, tree, object that I’ll stop and snap a photo. I hope that the works resonate with individuals.”

Art & Design 

Carlo Calma


If Carlo Calma lived in the time of Gertrude Stein, there isn’t a doubt that he would be a constant fixture at 27 rue de Fleurus, her storied salon known for its evening congregations of creative talents and intellectuals that included the likes of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henri Matisse, and Guillaume Apollinaire, to name a few. He’s just that cool. An artist and architect, he is one of those people that everyone wants to have around to make them feel better about themselves—not only because he is fun to be around, but because after any conversation with him, you walk away feeling a little bit smarter, a tad more relevant, and exponentially more aware.

Constantly referencing new ideas, materials, and technologies, Carlo endlessly fuses art and architecture in as many ways as he can, often resulting in the creation of a sensual dialogue that creates experiential qualities in spaces and an exploitation of the material and its tactile beauty. “My work shows the digital fabrication process—the seams or connections you think are part of construction but are actually part of the two-dimensional digital process,” he explains. “I’m experimenting now with new technologies in certain fields that are normally not used in art, like sensors embedded in artwork or floor tiles, or edible 3D prototyping sculpture.”

Adding gallerist to his list of professions in 2013, Carlo first began showing “artists I like to collect” at Gallery Vask, a private room featuring revolving degustation menus at Vask, a restaurant that he co-owns with a group of friends. The art space quickly evolved into a meta-space for art and design and outgrew its size so Carlo took it up a notch—actually, seven notches up—and from the fifth-floor dining space, he moved his gallery up to the 12th floor in the same building. “We wanted to have an experiential layer of having guests brought up to the penthouse to continue their dining experience, hence this new art space, Manifesto, was born.”

A platform for exchanging ideas, sharing knowledge, and appreciating art, Carlo hopes that Manifesto will create a discourse in multi-disciplines from an array of mediums that are not only painting and sculpture but also in other disciplines like architecture, performance art, fashion (soft sculptures), film, and ceramics, that alternates between foreign and local artists. “I like conceptual works of art and design, the rigorous process or sometimes the intelligent ‘accidents’ that are part of the process. There is a certain sensibility that comes with abstraction.”


Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone

Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone

"Getting over that eight-year-long relationship? That was me,” reveals director Dan Villegas about his and girlfriend Antoinette Jadaone’s first big breakout film, That Thing Called Tadhana, where its protagonist, Mace, tries to mend a broken heart in the company of a guy named Anthony whom she bumped into at an airport. “I came from an eight-year relationship before I dated Antoinette.” Slow, conversational, funny, and simple, the film was a breath of fresh air set against Philippine cinema’s abundance of formulaic romantic comedies and introduced Dan and Antoinette as the next breed of romcom directors.

The success of That Thing Called Tadhana led to more mainstream directorial work for the couple. Dan worked on the box-office hit The Breakup Diaries, Antoinette on English Only, Please and You’re My Boss. Both booked jobs for then popular primetime soap On the Wings of Love as co-directors, and each had a film entry at the last year's Metro Manila Film Festival. The unique and compelling thing about their work is the absence of cliché, slapstick, and excessive mush. Romantic comedy is their favorite genre, which may present a plethora of plots, but one thing both Dan and Antoinette try to be consistent with is being truthful. “I like staying as close to real life as possible,” says Antoinette. “I want scenes to be natural. Even in writing the script, I want natural lines. I stay away from writing something for the sake of having unforgettable lines or quotable quotes.”

The duo started out as production assistants (sometimes even assistants to the assistants), held other positions moving up the filmmaking ladder, and made do with measly budgets producing and directing indie films. “Some peers think we sold out,” Dan says of their shift to mainstream films. “But isn’t having an audience the point of making art or creating a work? And it’s not like we are not trying to improve and change what you see in the mainstream. We are. Slowly, surely.” Antoinette adds, “The worst thing ever said about our work is that it doesn’t have value because of its genre, that a romcom is a lesser film than others that present social commentaries or discuss poverty. Truth be told, there are a lot of terrible indie films too. Judge a movie on its wholeness. Romantic comedies are pre-judged by people who don’t even watch Filipino movies and who just check out the trailer. Some think that just because it’s a mainstream actor starring in it, it’s automatically shallow,” she says. “It’s time they actually start watching to see that they’re not all fluff.”

This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Town&Country Philippines. 
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

View More Articles About:
More Videos You Can Watch
About The Author
Town & Country Philippines
Chronicling exceptional people, exclusive destinations, and the very best things in life.
View Other Articles From Town & Country
Latest Feed
Load More Articles
Connect With Us