New UAE artist collective puts Philippine art in the spotlight: 'By Filipinos, for Filipinos'

Featuring 12 artists, Sa Tahanan Collective's group exhibition opens in Dubai on December 17

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Can you name a few Filipino artists living in the UAE? If you are at a loss, a new artist collective hopes to change that, starting with its first exhibition in Dubai.

Sa Tahanan Collective – "at home" in Tagalog – is run by Augustine Paredes and Anna Bernice De Los Reyes. It aims to direct more visibility towards Filipino talent, and also help those individuals find each other.

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The ethos was just wanting Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly artists in Dubai, to take up space, and introducing Filipino artistry and creativity to this city

“The ethos was just wanting Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly artists in Dubai, to take up space, and introducing Filipino artistry and creativity to this city,” Paredes says.

Largely self-funded, the art show opens on Thursday, December 17, at Warehouse 44 in Alserkal Avenue. It features 12 artists, including filmmakers, poets and photographers – half of whom live in the UAE, while the rest reside abroad – with 20 artworks on view.

“It talks about home, yearning for home, with references to being Filipino,” Paredes describes it.

A public programme will unfold over the weekend, which includes film screenings, live poetry readings, live art and a streetwear showcase by Filipino apparel brand Dayo.

When it came to selecting the artists, Sa Tahanan Co founders started with names they knew, then cast their net wider, finding artists to collaborate with online. “We were educating ourselves along the way, looking at artists outside of the Middle East and looking at the Filipino diaspora globally,” Paredes explains.

Filipinos have been largely absent from the regional gallery circuit, though a number have been making strides in their own right. Paredes is one of them, exhibiting at Campus Art Dubai in 2019, then publishing his own collection of visual poetry this year. He is also a cohort of the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (Seaf) 2021.

De Los Reyes is an artist who works in Dubai and has written for Vice Arabia and Global Art Daily. A graduate of NYU Abu Dhabi, she focuses on social research and decolonising Filipino identity in her work.

Though not necessarily represented by galleries, other artists have displayed their works at Gulf Photo Plus’ group exhibitions, Showcase Gallery and FN Designs.

“We’re always behind-the-scenes, but how would it feel to put ourselves out there and manifest and demand for space,” Paredes says.

“We’re not claiming to be the first to hold an all-Filipino exhibition,” he adds, highlighting other collectives such as Brownmonkeys, founded in 2007 with focuses on graffiti and graphic design.

A member of the Brownmonkeys, Cholo Juan, will be exhibiting one of his hallucinogenic paintings and will be painting live on Saturday, December 19.

Other artists in the exhibition include photographers Nino Consorte, who has captured apocalyptic shots of the recent Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines, and Angelo Aguilor, more commonly known as Angel-O, whose quirky analog photographs play on happenstance in urban life.

Works by Ava Victoria and Goldie Siglos bear signifiers instantly recognisable to Filipinos – the label for White Flower ointment, a medicinal oil used in for common ailments; a Good Morning cotton towel, a necessity in the tropical heat that has become a symbol for the working class.

A print of Tammy David's Did I Ask to Be Born? cake, which turned into a viral meme, will also be on view. It started as a humorous birthday cake in 2018, but has recently been adopted as a tongue-in-cheek quip for Covid-ridden 2020, transformed into illustrations and eventually, a photographic print.

'Did I Ask to Be Born' by Tammy David

Mox Santos's absurdist still lifes, composed of assemblages of odd objects, contrast Paredes's more sombre and dark For All The Nights I Dance With You In My Sleep, a painterly still life of dried flowers.

Elle Batung's delicate homage to home shows a young slumbering woman with a house tucked under her chest, while Kimberly Elliott, a Filipino-American artist in France, playfully breaks down everyday encounters in her Instructional series.

The film screenings include director Bagane Fiola's River (2018), part of Sharjah Art Foundation's Sharjah Film Programme last year, which tells the story of brothers from Moro communities seeking to travel beyond their surroundings, and the premiere of Anna Miguel Cervantes's We Do Not Exist Here, which imagines an alternative Philippine histories.

Prices for the artworks range from Dh300 to Dh1,500, with all proceeds going to Kids for Kids, a Philippine youth organisation tackling climate change and currently distributing relief goods to those affected by Typhoon Goni.

After the exhibition, Sa Tahanan Co will continue to sell artworks on its website. The collective plans to develop monthly initiatives, including artist critique sessions, with the first few online.

The website will also feature a directory of Filipino artists and creatives in the region and beyond, serving as a reference tool for collaborations and commissions.

Funding remains a matter of uncertainty, although the group have received some support for the current show in the form of a small stipend from Alserkal. “I’m hoping that other institutions will support us. We’re open for collaborations,” Paredes says.

For now, the duo behind the collective are set on making a mark, or at least a strong introduction, on those who may not have encountered Filipino art before. Ultimately, Paredes says, the biggest impression they want to make is on their kabayans: “It is for the Filipino first and foremost.”

Sa Tahanan Collective’s show runs from Thursday, December 17 to Saturday, December 19 at Warehouse 44, Alserkal Avenue. More information at satahanan.co

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