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The alley, the cranny, is also a fulcrum

The amazement was bigger than my 6-year-old body so it leaked from my tiny mouth.

When Mario Magikero took out his talking puppet, the dusty corner of the public market transformed into some bright-lit part of a theater. To children like me, it was a spectacular experience that did not require an entrance fee. The vegetable vendors, meat butchers, marketgoers, sari-sari store helpers, and kargadors sneaked out of their stalls to be an audience like myself.

Saturday was a day like no other. It was the only day of the week that fed the bizarre pockets of my inner world.

One of our dreams then, my cousins and I, was to get picked as volunteers for his magical performances. It happened once to To’ Lester.

“I will turn this boy into a goat!” Mario announced with his suave moves.

His shiny vintage outfit and pomade-kept hair made us believe him. We all waited for the moment…until he started selling his healing liniment and bottled vino agoso. Then, my aunt called my cousin for an errand. He ran away with two legs, still.

Though many adults began to become skeptical about Mario's work, I was a believer through and through – not of his magical powers, but his artistic storytelling and energetic performances. He told us about his travels to faraway villages, his lucid chance encounters with both humans and the otherworldly, and above all, his dancing pet snake. His narratives were not mundane.

Indeed, Mario was one of the first creative weirdos I have ever met up-close.

For almost six years now, I have had the privilege of co-designing experiences for Artivism Iloilo. Every opportunity inspires me to put myself in a space of naivety and empathy with a dash of social experiment. I remember when we decided to make Huring-huring happen. We took into heart the dynamics of the sidewalks and alley around the parking lot of Robinson’s Place Iloilo.

Street dancers dancing at night
Ilonggo break dancers gathered by Anna Jimenez during Artivism 1.0: Huring-huring (photo by Stephen Tabares)

Street food carts. People from all walks of life pass by, stopping for a few minutes to dip their sticks of kikiam and fish balls into a tub of hot or sweet sauce. The dipping part is a communion of many strangers. Knuckles touching, sauce dripping into oneness.

So, we designed the performances as a free flow of poetry, percussions, dances, songs, and classical music, while the murals unfold. Get into the groove when you feel like it. Begin when you feel the other artist resolves his part.

For Marka Mekado, I envisioned portraits as the most relatable mural style for an audience that has almost no exposure to gallery art. We also picked the walls that were on the various entrance alleys of Barotac Viejo merkado – like we are to step into the heart of the intention. Moreover, we embraced the barangay-style of contests and activities with some artistic twists: a cooking contest for vegetable vendors (no magic sarap nor flavoring cubes allowed!), upcycling fashion contest for the LGBTQIA+ community, a street photography contest for the youth, and tricycle decorating contest for tricycle drivers and drivers’ associations.

Musicians busking
Momo Dalisay, Miguel Davao, and Maharlikang Bahandi on-the-spot musical collaboration for Artivism 3.0:Marka Merkado (photo by Marrz Capanang)

Designing all of those was very humbling as it led me back to the many moments of going to the plaza and basketball courts to join the local events, the overwhelming experiences of discovering crafters and imagineers shyly hiding in the puroks and barangays, and the human ache to use creativity as the channel for community-building. I also fondly remember the likes of Anthony Balairos and Elvino Vocal Jr. who made my tenure as the SK Chairman of Brgy. Poblacion more colorful with their original ideas during our local gatherings such as our street dancing and literary-cultural contest. When I am joining these local events, I rest the critical brain and open the child’s heart.

When Dool became a possibility, I was so thrilled. That alley in Marymart Mall is one of my most cherished. There were hazy days of daydreams induced by Wong Kar Wai movies that I walked back and forth, thinking what if those walls could lead me to a soulmate. A distinct face in a sea of strangers. A fellow food court-goer who is also a serial people-watcher.

Co-designing Dool was a milestone for me. People passed by as they usually did, but their eyes were more curious. “I must admit, this was a very intense experience for me. I have never felt so connected with the community as now. Not even in the many festivals work, I am part of,” confessed a participating muralist. The mall's security guards were taking an active part – ensuring the harmony of the event, talking to artists, and asking important questions, engaging with the performance crowd. In return, we got to know them. We shared bits of our lives with each other. We had longer eye contact.

Performance artist in Iloilo
Raz Salvarita's performance art for Dool - Iloilo Arts Festival (Photo by Arsen Vargas)

These dynamics meant so much for every time I passed by in that alley, I often see them so alone in their posts. Sometimes too absorbed in their mobile phone scrolling.

As a child, I was too afraid to show some of my curiosities. I was so ashamed of feeling/being like an outsider. In order for me to cope, I frequented secret alleys and crannies within me.

Standing in a circle around Mario Magikero’s performances was a source of sustenance. I felt co-weird, but not too cowardly to be with others. It liberated me to be present with their laughter, intrigues, future nostalgia, and body odor.

And as the years of both communion and loneliness gestated my Higher Purpose, I come home to cosmic suggestions and inquiries:

How can I help in elevating literacy to embodied awareness?

How can I embrace artistry in such a way that it does not isolate me from shared consciousness?

How can I unlearn the geographical centers of my body so I can cross the islands and really walk with my kapwa?

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