ONLY on its first year in this thriving city, the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts (ILOMOCA) has already proven itself a vital and dynamic venue for the local Ilonggo art community – injecting some newfound vigor into this already electric cultural scene. The Iloilo Business Park (IBP) township is gradually emerging as an unlikely new playground for artists in Western Visayas.

First opened in March 17, 2018, the P109-million ILOMOCA – which includes three floors, five exhibit halls, and 3,000 square feet in exhibition space – has opened the floodgates for IBP to become a rising art district by its own right.

The township has become fertile ground for alternative art venues since ILOMOCA’s debut. Among the budding art spaces: the Mamusa Art Gallery, conveniently located right beside ILOMOCA, a bar and bistro led by a new generation of artist-entrepreneurs; Arte Tierra Art Space at the Ground Floor of Festive Walk Mall Iloilo with their clay sculptures; as well as Book Latte along Festive Walk Parade which regularly hosts small exhibits from fledgling artists; and hopefully more to come.

Ilonggo marble sculptor Harry Mark Gonzales is a 2007 Metrobank Art & Design Excellence (MADE) grand prize winner.

Add to that the perennial exhibits held inside Festive Walk Mall, among the most memorable: the inaugural QuoLab Iloilo Art x Design Feast which showcased innovative local furniture and design, and viewable now, large wall-mounted canvases of greenery and topography by veteran artist PG Zoluaga from his “Habitat” series at the third floor of the annex – as well as vibrant public art and frescos by Ilonggo muralists at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Bourbon Street, the Courtyard by Marriott, and Book Latte, among others.

Despite being touted as the new business district of Iloilo City, the bustling township has turned into an artist’s haven as well.

YOUTH ON FIRE

What’s most important to note is ILOMOCA’s willingness to invest in young and raw Ilonggo artistry. After hosting stalwart Negrense painter Nunelucio Alvarado and extraordinaire Jeho Bitancor of Cultural Center of the Philippines – Thirteen Artist Awards fame in its Hulot Space, the burgeoning gallery has given the opportunity for emerging local artists to take the stage.

Presenting “Caught in the Crossfire” early this year, ILOMOCA broke its series of solo shows by established artists to cede space to 13 gifted Ilonggos who are beginning to build their own names in the art community.

Kat Malazarte, a Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines awardee with her piece entilted “The Choice.”

“We are honored to help promising Filipino artists showcase their masterpieces here in ILOMOCA as a way of supporting them and putting the spotlight onto their craft,” said Tefel Pesigan-Valentino, vice president for Business Development and Marketing, Megaworld Lifestyle Malls, during the exhibit’s opening. “Art and culture play very significant roles in the continued development of our townships, and it is through exhibits like this that we are able to continue inspiring more people to embrace our brand of artistry and creativity.”

A conversion on strife and struggle, “Caught in the Crossfire” saw the youthful artists reflect on their own journeys of self-discovery. A highlight of the group show was “The Choice” by Kat Malazarte, a Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines awardee, depicting a warrior seemingly trapped in a melee against his doppelganger as two identical Brahminy kites flutter around them. Set against a vivid burning sky, the tableau brings to mind the religious iconography of the archangel St. Michael and his fearsome blade.

“Oftentimes, we hear the stories of the old about the greatest battles that happened in the heavens, land, and sea. But we barely discuss the dreadful battle that takes place night and day, within each of us,” reflected Malazarte in her artist statement.

Impressionist Sonny “Yob” Tolentino renders Casa Emperador in his signature hand.

Just this March, Megaworld Foundation in partnership with Metrobank Foundation, Inc., mounted “Art MADE Public: Icons MADE,” showcasing the winning works of six Ilonggo Metrobank Art & Design Excellence (MADE) awardees. Doubling as a homecoming of sorts for the awarded works of 2018 MADE grand champions Noel Elicana and Alex Ordoryo, this marked the first time these winning masterpieces have been up for public exhibit outside of Metro Manila.

Elicana and Ordoyo were joined by 2018 MADE special citation recipient Roland Llarena, 2017 MADE grand awardee Paul John Cabanalan, 2009 2nd prize winner Leoniel Cerbas, and 2007 grand prize winner Harry Mark Gonzales – all tracing their roots to Iloilo.

ILOMOCA and the IBP has been kind to other art forms as well, The Box playing host to the Iloilo Theater Festival in late March and Poetika, a monthly spoken word poetry and open mic night, in April. IBP has also partnered with Ilonggo writers group Hubon Manunulat for the first Iloilo Mega Book Fair late last year.

One of the first to exhibit their artwork inside Festive Walk Mall Sonny “Yob” Tolentino, as he co-headlined a two-man show with Ilongga abstract artist Shiela Molato during the mall’s opening week, has found more opportunities for growth in IBP as well. Known for his nostalgic and surreal canvases, often portraying iconic Iloilo landmarks through his unique rain-drenched lens, Tolentino opened his first solo show “I don’t think I’m going away anymore: Iloilo City in Oil and Poetry” at the Mamusa Art Gallery late last year.

”Just Another Day” by 2017 MADE grand awardee Paul John Cabanalan

His impressionist take on the enduring charm of Iloilo City Proper, with its retrofitted façades, bustling traffic, and proximity to the Iloilo River, has easily endeared itself to the Ilonggos, with even mayor Jose Espinosa III taking notice and personally visiting the exhibit.

Tolentino has trained his eye on plenty of heritage structures around the city, the formidable Arroyo Fountain, the immutable Calle Real, the Iloilo Customs House (Aduana) watching over the Iloilo River, even the Jaro Cathedral in Jaro District – rendering them in his signature hand.

”The Director” by Aileen Lanuza

But “Yob” hasn’t let the emerging icons of Iloilo slip his eye, seeing too their potential to be timeless in likeness and light – among them the Casa Emperador, which houses ILOMOCA, the steadfast monument of Gen. Martin Delgado and his steed in front of it, a new cradle for artistry in this region, in time an recognizable Ilonggo icon./PN

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