Lauded artist and photographer Wawi Navarroza elaborates on her perspective about the Philippine art industry today.

Wawi Navarroza is multi-disciplinary artist. (represented by Silverlens Galleries) best known for her photography. She has been awarded time and time again and her works have appeared in exhibits, museums and galleries around the globe. 

She currently resides in Istanbul and is working on a future solo exhibition set for November 2021, in London. Read on to see what she has to say about the current state of Philippine art and what she hopes for the future. 

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What makes Filipino art and the local scene exciting or unique for you?  

I love (and sometimes detest) the Do-It-Yourself passionate insistence to bring out the idea no matter what, even if we had no choice (i.e. lack of funding or support), but in the end, we have made something of ourselves and it feels right, it feels good. Filipino art is unique because there is no “school” that binds it; our persuasions are our own. I miss the local art scene and just being there at exhibitions and openings. There’s an unspoken camaraderie and loyalty underlying it all. Maybe because we quietly know each other’s pain: the doubts and momentary fits of glory that went into the making, before the frames you see were hung on the wall. And more than this, the choice most of us had made at some point to commit to making art for life, as a livelihood. Still, it’s a privilege. 

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What do you think of the current state future of Filipino art? Where do you want it to be in the future? 

We can’t deny the rupture last year has brought to every fabric of our being. For almost a year now, we have been living under the spectre of death. We get daily reminders about how fragile life is.

Some could continue working from home. Some were entirely out of jobs and income. This was the case for most artists. Artists found ways to cope, to protect ourselves and our families while we held on to our savings. We are doing our best but this won’t be sustainable; only a few would survive on art sales alone. During the lockdown, we were on several zoom calls and chat groups sharing our situations, discussing what best to do with daily expenses, rent, studio, medical, etc. It became very clear that when it comes to civic rights and protection, Filipino artists are on our own, in limbo—unrecognised. 

It would be naive to imagine ‘art from the pandemic’ exhibitions and make other plans without truly addressing where it hurts the most for most artists: economically, and increasingly related, to mental-emotional health. We need to be pragmatic in a way and see this as an opportunity to revise approaches to production costs, patronage, sales and pay, and for buyers, payment plans, and other alternative ways to carve a space for art during such an uncertain time for everyone. 

For as long as we maintain our right to freedom of expression in our views and opinions in whatever our chosen metier and art form is, the future holds for Filipino art. It won’t be the same as before. It will be more online, tech-aided. As the change is still shifting underneath our feet, Filipino art will be varied and dynamic. Expect surprises, there are new stories, all hinging on our relationships—to the self and to the community, to the local and the global. I hope to see more visibility for artists from outside Manila. The political will resound in the personal more than ever. The subtle and tender will be celebrated.

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In your opinion needs to be done to promote Filipino art? What do you think it takes to make an impact? 

Visual literacy is the ultimate goal. In order for this to take place, exposure to art should be normalised in a way, something present in our everyday lives, or at least available around us. I launched Thousandfold in 2015, a platform and library for contemporary photography and photobooks with this goal in mind; to add a drop in the bucket of possible solutions.

In my opinion, the most viable future-proof way with a lot of impact is, hands-down, online. In my fantasy, there should be a well-produced, well-researched, with on-point graphic design, locally-made documentary YouTube series on Philippine Art. Each episode profiles a [contemporary] Filipino artist or [feature a retrospective] for artists who have already passed on. I [could then] binge-watch one episode after the other, regardless of my location and could share the link with friends, family, students, curators, galleries, collectors, artists, anyone. 

Everyone is online for better or for worse until we get out of this pandemic. It has altered us immensely and this is our new reality. Social platforms live for images, videos, for art (or at least pictures of art) and most importantly, our desire to connect and discover what moves us.

For the long term bigger picture, we need more in-depth writing on our important artists and artworks. We need to produce more monographs and books. We need to protect our artists’ life’s work and legacy from oblivion. We need more art critics and art writers to cover the breadth and diversity of our local art scene. 

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