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To gauge how Iloilo City now has a culture that rivals most metropolitan areas in the country, you only have to be aware of the different “scenes” existing here today: art; rock; literature; fashion; filmmaking; food. Name it, and there’s one that has probably popped up somewhere.

Thankfully, many blogs and even established publications came up their own takes on the stories from those said scenes. Project Iloilo may not be able to operate tomorrow, but I’m confident there are other writers—heck, storytellers—who can take up the slack we’ll be leaving behind.

Ilonggos’ renewed confidence in local culture started out organically, but it eventually developed to a point that institutional support began spreading out for some of them. As one who’s been indirectly involved with several subcultures here, it’s heartening to see that people other than “us” involved in this website are now seeing what we’ve already known to be true since: That Iloilo has always been an awesome place.

Photos by Jemuel Garcia Jr.

As dynamic as our scenes are, some of us do have realize that each one is at risk of being trapped in a bubble. Of course, those “bubbles” are instrumental for the development of any scene; after all, it’s a good way of knowing which people would support you, and there’s no feeling more unifying than knowing that you’re all together for the cause, even if it means you’ll have to sacrifice a lot just to see it flourish.

The flip side, of course, is that tight-knit scenes can also create exclusion, even without meaning to. Many are usually cultivated by a few individuals who would naturally be on the lookout for like-minded people. It’s just like the echo chambers we see on the Internet: We’re content with hanging out with “our” people. As a result, there’s just no reason for any scene them to hold dialogues with a different one.

Hey, people don’t call it “scene politics” for nothing.

Of course, there are multiple attempts to reach out over the divide; why else do you think organizers here still hold art events, trade fairs, gigs, and the like even though there’s a high chance that it’ll be just the same people showing up there? I’m sure many of the organizers mean well when want their events to be appreciated by a wide spectrum of people with the aim of educating them about the culture they’re propagating, but it’s rare to see any event here that looks like it’s actually doing such.

It’s been a few days since Artivism as of this writing, but I’m still convinced this is one of those events that was able to deliver its aim effectively: To make art approachable and even achievable to the public. It also doesn’t hurt that the murals created for the event speaks to our reality today. In essence, its question is, “What would ‘art with a message’ look like if it was squeezed through the lens of social media?”

The likely answer: It’s full of ideas, most of which are messy and disorganized. Go through them a second time though, and you may see the point of what it’s trying to say. Social media may have been the inspiration for the murals, but unlike real social media, you can actually take your time to go through a single “post” rather than just scrolling down and look for the next thing to “like”.

Photos by Detalyii

Personally, it reminded me of ‘Arte sa Kalye’, a project where murals made by both professional and amateur artists that supposedly represented modern Ilonggo society are placed in a public-slash-commercial space; Artivism, in the same vein, fielded many groups who identified as feminists, LGBTQ advocates, graffiti bombers, digital illustrators, shirt designers, and, this one I found most charming, an all-schoolteacher team. And similar to ‘Arte’, these artists had to endure being sunbaked through two days to finish their works.

That’s where the similarities end: Whereas ‘Arte’ had artists compete against each other in the name of promoting tourism, Artivism encouraged collaboration by only allowing black and white colors to be used on the walls. As it eventually turned out, that decision substantially allowed each piece to interconnect with the murals adjacent to it, despite the differences of the themes espoused on each one.

I’m not sure if the choice to go with a muted color spectrum is a deliberate play on the virtues of creative limitation, but it did look like it contributed to the “relatability” of the pieces, as evidenced by the many casual onlookers who mulled on each piece rather than passing from one end of the wall to the other. I have a feeling those observers—decked out in simple shorts and tsinelas—don’t even fancy themselves as art enthusiasts.

This art-to-the-masses approach even extended up to the performances during the second day (the skaters, on the other hand, were given the afternoon slot on Saturday). During the mid-point of the performances, the performers just decided to pile on everyone’s eardrums: Urban Baylehan regulars Aftersyx Recordings pulled out whatever samples they had with the drum circle beside them, while the guitarists and violinists made the racket even louder as the spoken word performers almost screamed to have their voices heard. I’m sure many in the audience couldn’t make out what was being played, but you know what? It felt spontaneous. It felt fun.

As the Unified b-boy crew got into the first gear of their performance while late afternoon transitioned into dusk, someone from the back of the crowd started waving his phone’s flashlight like a handheld strobe; pretty soon, those huddled near the center did the same.

For all the talk of Ilonggos being a stoic and non-participative bunch—particularly when you present them with acts they’re not familiar with—this sequence certainly dispelled that stereotype with a picture- (or, in our case, video-) perfect moment: With everyone moving along to the beat with cellphones in hand. It’s a communal ritual made modern.

For the longest time I’ve been involved or attended events like these, Artivism didn’t feel like “kami-kami lang” as usual. It was marketed, and really became, a public event; one that just happened to be held in a commercial mall’s carpark where busy Ilonggos routinely pass through or commute every day. Many people that wandered there during the weekend where from the nearby barangays, the ones coming off from hearing Mass, and the ones who originally went downtown for the Sunday ukay-ukay.

They’re everyday people.

Look, we’d like to think that the scenes we’re involved in are making a difference, and many actually do. Some can even be quantified with the paintings, the food, the crafts, the shirts, and whatever else our artists and artisans are producing. By all means, trumpet the hell out of them, because no one else can list all of their merits to anyone than you.

However, do realize that not everyone views culture in the same manner as you do; what is “sosyal” to some may be “buki” to others, and that’s perfectly fine. Social media has invariably forced many of us to be identified by the things we like. It’s making us homogenous by molding our views to perfectly suit the platform’s algorithms. It’s sterile and logical, and it leaves no room for empathy at all.

Our scenes can also be like that. We invariably parrot the same views that, pretty soon, we only get set in creating things in a “correct” way. Deviation is betrayal.

Still, there should surely come a time when the connection made matters more than following what is “correct”. It’s why, as a sometime-weekend writer, I really couldn’t hate on Wattpad; if it gets kids to read, then who am I say that these readers are doing it wrong? Similarly, an artist may flout the style he or she grew up on, but if the creation delivers the message as intended, then why should it even matter? Even better, the said piece may even serve as a gateway to the observer being educated about a particular style or subculture without them being lectured on it.

Hey, our awareness all has to begin from somewhere.

Many of the best ideas are derived because an individual considered a certain perspective. As Ilonggos, we certainly have the right mindsets to move forward while honoring our traditions. As the tourism tagline goes, Iloilo City is “where the past is always present”, isn’t it?

If you’re passionate about something, then go ahead and make your own scene. But consider giving leeway to communicate, cooperate, or even collaborate with other scenes because, frankly, the only way you could make yours grow is by accounting for the presence of other minds, too.

We can have as many scenes in as many niches as we want, but it’s the people—the community—that will allow them to flourish. Seeing different types of people come together at Artivism reminded me that “inclusivity” and “diversity” are important factors to a community, and not just buzzwords only self-identified progressives can use.

Of course, we probably have to end with this question: Will an art-conscious public lead to things being better?

I’ll let Bambu’s line from “I Beg Of You” speak about it instead:

Talk is cheap. Actions still matter.

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