On its 7th year, the Looking for Juan Outdoor Banner Show – CANVAS’ annual effort to encourage the use of art to reflect on our national identity – asked the participating artists, “What things, spirit, or attitudes can be found only in the Philippines?” 

The phrase “Only in the Philippines” can be read in various ways – as an expression of pride in what we feel are activities, attitudes, and aspirations that are uniquely Filipino; yet also as an expression of frustration and exasperation about systems and situations that we know are corrupt, unjust, or simply not good enough.

The answers have come in all shapes and colors. They come in the vibrant hues of parols that point to our fascinating way of celebrating Christmas – over four months, starting in September; in the curious ways we turn our plates when somebody leaves the table before one is finished with his or her meal; in the image of a boxer as national hero who could, if imagination and votes meet, be the country’s next president.

Good or bad, major or minor, these images collectively afford us a glimpse into the richness and diversity of our culture. They also assure us that pride and frustration are not mutually exclusive feelings toward our country and ourselves. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin; and both are necessary elements to motivate us in steering our nation into a brighter, peaceful, and just future.

The carabao is the national animal of the Philippines. It symbolizes strength, power, efficiency, perseverance, and most of all, hardwork. Until now, many Filipinos use the carabao in the farm since the technology is expensive. It has been one of the many things that picture the Filipino life--representing many Filipino ideas, characteristics, culture, and tradition.

Filipinos always find ways to make tragic incidents bearable and somehow find reasons to stay positive. Our houses and possessions may drown after strong typhoons and floods, but we will still manage to keep our hearts and hope afloat. 

The parol is a traditional star-shaped lantern made of bamboo wood and paper, and comes in different sizes, shapes, and colors. It symbolizes the star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men to the manger of Jesus Christ.

Kundiman is a Filipino love song.

Though not only found in the Philippines, the duster has been commonly associated with our mothers, titas, and grandmothers. They are the women of a typical/traditional Filipino home. These women, too, work to earn and are usually our all around helpers here in the country and even abroad. The newly washed duster shown seems resting for before another day's work.

This work is about a young gypsy girl that is commonly seen riding a jeepney to play music and ask for alms.

This portrait challenges Filipino youth in achieving the stature of Francisco Balagtas as the great poet and role model to the youth.

"You name it, we have it."

"We are fearless, we are brave, we are warriors."

This work is a challenge to confront adversities and kill the negative innuendos that haunt Filipinos. We are not cockroaches, we are not pests.

This artwork is about the Filipino’s penchant for building hopes and dreams on “tingian” and “sari-sari” endeavors with a certain amount of risk-taking, hence the allusion to the Tower of Babel and the modern Filipino metaphor, “drowing”, which refers to a sketchy plan.

We are a nation of possibilities. Filipinos are generally innovative, strategic and imaginative.

Together with our innate adaptability, we can adjust to any situation, make use of resources at hand, and create something from nothing.

A Filipino showcase of ingenuity and crafstmanship at its best as we see everyday in the streets from food vendors and jeepneys in colorful designs and of good taste.

The procession of the Black Nazarene is the largest procession in the country. It takes place on January the 9th and on Good Friday through the streets of Quiapo, Metro Manila. During the feast of the Black Nazarene, thousands of barefoot men join the annual procession. Walking barefoot during the procession is seen as a sign of humility. The men yell, "Viva Señor!" People believe that a miracle can happen after touching the icon.

Monsters can be seen everywhere; there is a monster in every Juan.

We are artisans, craftsmen, artists living and loving (and hating, once in a while) our country. It is a family portrait that pays tribute to Filipino creativity and imagination.

Made from glutinous rice (kalamay), brown sugar, and coconut milk, sundot kulangot literally means “poke a snot” or “pick a booger,” describing the bizarre way of eating it. Packaged within small wooden orbs, they are actually sweet, pinch-sized delicacies that taste like traditional coconut jams. One must break the orb and use either a popsicle stick or one’s own finger to get a taste of the candy. Thanks to its tedious preparation, sundot kulangot is now becoming a rarity with limited supply being sold in Baguio City and in other Northern Luzon provinces.

The Laguna Copper Plate bore an ancient debt released. Among many interpretations, it is a testimony of an advance trading culture with laws that governed relationships and transactions; and a sign of a generous act which we could only wish the debtors would take heed.

Ryzza Mae, a Filipino child actress, as a St. Louis Exposition (1904) participant

This represents strong women, past and present, who are confined and controlled by social standards on one hand, but persevered and took control with the other. It is part of a series of archival explorations inspired by the iconic and very controversial history of the Manila Carnival Queens (1908-1939). 

From the term "Juan Tamad" to Juan the Mad, here is an illustration of a daydreaming or floating man. Is it falling or flying from the sky?

Despite all adversities in life, Filipinos remain positive and hopeful.

The "Lectern" shows us what we, the audience, cannot usually see from where we stand. It is the artist's interpretation of what the lectern would look like from the public speaker's point of view. For the artist, the lectern is not only where speeches are delivered, it is also where a sophisticated creole of death and capital takes form.

"Kapit-bisig" is a gesture often used to represent a Filipino trait called "bayanihan". It sets aside cultural, political, and other differences to show unity and compassion mostly in times of calamity. Filipinos are known to have this trait/spirit since time immemorial.

As a culture, our overall tastes lean toward excess, filling up every nook and cranny of every nook and cranny. Our maximalist sensibilities fill up our living rooms with figurines and wall hangings that not only display our histories (family photos and party souvenirs) and our achievements (framed diplomas), but our aspirations (posters and knick-knacks from loved ones abroad).

"Hala bira! Pwera pasma!" is originally associated with the Sto. Nino Ati-Atihan Festival as revellers and devotees join the festivities all over the town, from morning to wee hours of the next morning, rain or shine, for one week or even more.

Every one of us has a path to take to be in a certain place in our lives. Whether we take the hard way or the easy way, we still have this process to go through. This work is about that path that Filipinos take. It is a perception of the experiences we acquire and the choices we make along the way in order to succeed.

Only here in the Philippines, in all its glorious idiosyncrasies, can this perspective thrive: a curious amalgamation of positivity despite what is oftentimes gloom. Filipinos always manage to thrive, if not flourish, despite unfavorable conditions. This is the strength of our perspective.

Ginebra San Miguel, also once known as La Tondeña Distillers, Inc. has become, through the years, an iconic fixture in the Filipino’s culture of celebration, camaraderie and tenacity.

Few things mortal evoke ideas so eternal as a rose. It blooms but briefly, shines and fades away. It is both an offering and a metaphor. A symbol of passion, purity and joy; of secrets of the heart and things unspoken; an oath of silence; a romantic love; and a complete surrender and permanent transmutation.

A common perception of people who don't submerge themselves (the audience) in what is in front of them, and the hilarious interpretation of the work of other people (the artist). 

A critique on overkill, political promises, and an almost blind obsession towards self-belonging and religion.

The Black Nazarene of Quiapo is one of the most iconic religious images in the Filipino Catholic tradition. Its dark color breaks the notion that all saints are white. The Black Nazarene is also a saint associated with the masses because of its phenomenal number of devotees.

Amidst natural disasters, Filipinos are strong-spirited people who continue to brave each storm hand in hand. Whatever situation we are in, we rise as one nation. Filipino Pride, as they say, is "May angas. May yabang."

"Querencia" is Spanish for "beloved place". This painting is a tribute to San Pablo City, Laguna, famous for its seven lakes. A place shapes a person's identity and the stories we experience in a place play a major role in completing our journey.

Mebuyan is the goddess of the underworld. She is often described as a soul taker. She has the ability to take lives from humanity using rice grains which symbolize that from then on, people would die and descend to her in Gimokudan, rather than ascend to heaven. She is covered with breast and nipples which she uses to nurse the dead babies until their soul is strong and can survive on her land. --Adapted from Bagobo & Manobo Mythology

Troli, the wooden scooter from Ifugao.

Riding a bike is solitary freedom. It lets our individual self go wherever we want.

Liwayway (Tagalog word meaning "dawn") is a leading Tagalog weekly magazine published in the Philippines since 1922. It contains Tagalog serialized novels, short stories, poetry, serialized comics, essays, news features, entertainment news and articles, and many others. In fact, it is the oldest Tagalog magazine in the Philippines. It often featured women on its covers.

“Horror vacui", a Latin term for “fear of empty space”, is probably one of the most evident Filipino trait in our modern culture. From our tightly spaced structures to our ever overcrowded public transportation vehicles; we Filipinos can always come up with a way to leave not one inch of space left unused.

Folklore has always been a part of the culture and pysche of Filipinos.

The Ati-atihan Festival is about rejoicing at the arrival of the Sto. Nino, an icon given by Magellan to the Native Queen of Cebu in 1521, characterized by hyperactive merriment in the streets, showing how strong Filipinos embrace the Catholic religion, even though it was one of the tools used by the aggressors to take control over our country. Red is passion for our beloved Catholic religion; black symbolizes being deceived through religion, and white is unity through Catholicism.

Resilience -- one of the distinct, positive traits possessed by Filipinos. Represented on the canvas are the many challenges that Filipinos face -- poverty, calamities and natural disasters, and social unrest. Yet in the midst of it all, the Filipino remains calm and composed. The flower in bloom is growth and the Filipinos' ability to thrive even in the face of adversity.

People, town, culture, and economy can be saved with a good leader navigating the country toward a better direction.

This artwork is inspired by Padre Damaso, a character from one of Dr. Rizal's novels. He was a man of the church, and the church is supposed to uphold morality, and yet he had shady morals. The painting is also filled with images that are unique to our nation's history and culture, such as "Barok", anting-antings, the "Manunggul," and others.

"Swerte" or the Filipino concept of luck manifests not only in the popularity of games of chance in the Philippines, but is also evident in Filipino religiosity. Filipinos, in general, believe that there is a higher power that governs their lives, but just to hedge their bets, they also believe in things like Feng Sui and fortune telling. As the believers would say, "Walang masama kung maniniwala."

In the Filipino community, stigma can have a big impact on an individual. People can become judgemental about identifying marks or bodily deformities, associating these with certain negative and unfair beliefs.

The "sampayan" is a staple of the Filipino residential landscape, a devout and constant presence like a home altar/shrine. The fluttering of "flaglets" welcomes home the owners; the "sampayan" serves as a signifier to mark one’s territory in the neighborhood—a horizontal totem.

A bit of this, a bit of that feels like you almost have everything. This is probably the concept behind the sari-sari store that stands proudly, probably on every street corner in the Philippines.

A great thing about being a Filipino child in the 80's is to have experienced making bubbles using crushed gumamela flowers, water, and some detergent. Bb. Gumamela is a personification of a beautiful childhood and the bliss and magic that accompany those years of discovery.

The Philippines is the biggest exporter of manpower in the world. Due to the traditional close family ties, it is improper for a returning OFW to return home empty handed without any "pasalubong" (greeting gift).

Amidst the rapid onset of modernization, is a place in the heart of Manila still steeped in rural folk beliefs, occult, and catholicism. The work pays homage to such diversity of faith, specifically in Quiapo, a place where these various manifestations of gods and deities, is seen side by side. These imagery, reflects the Filipinos' penchant for juxtaposition and iconography, which in turn reveals a very distinct and personal understanding of local history.

Our country endures various problems usually rooted in the ineptness of our government – the aftermath of natural disasters, socio-political turmoil, everyday mishaps of urban living, tragedies. They are sensationalized in news and there are uproars in social media. However, after a while, historical amnesia starts to emerge. We never really learn from the past. We can only truly celebrate greatness once the change we need is achieved.

Filipinos have an idiom of "kayod kalabaw", which means working hard to the extent of completely tiring themselves out as they believe that their actions will be paid with comfort for them and their families. The carabao can be a metaphor for the burden of Filipinos, especially the breadwinners, they carry throughout their life.

Whale sharks (seen in Donsol, Sorsogon) are symbols of strength and grace. These magnificent creatures should be protected and allowed the freedom to swim to great lengths -- even the universe, through and across dimensions.

Basketball is so popular here in the Philippines. We randomly see makeshift basketball hoops made out of recycled pieces of wood nailed together and a ring. It shows the Filipinos' ability to mold their influences in their own capacity.

Filipinos are naturally born warriors with roots from our past that help us shape our nation. We can face whatever changes or challenges in our lives, no matter how big they may be. We stand as pillars of our nation.

This work explores the merging of whimsical imagination and memory, inspired by familiar plants from the artist's childhood summer vacations spent in Zambales. A fun approach was used to emphasize the colorful memories of the laid back life in the province. This led her to combine different techniques such as painting, printing, and embroidery.

This artwork defines character and individualism, consisting of 7 types of the common Filipino -- the Farmer, the Social Worker, the Mother, the Teacher, the Student, the Child, and a Female holding on to her chest. These are different aspirations in life but these share the same passion, ways, and culture.

Like twin children, the jeepney and the “boundary system” were born of Filipino ingenuity and artistry. Now, the jeepney has grown into an ugly mass of junk roaring for survival on the road. And the “boundary system” has corrupted all other partakers in the street economy, which is the microcosm of the Philippine economy.

Looking for Juan
Credits: Story

Looking for Juan is a program of CANVAS that centers on creative activities and events designed to explore the use of art to drive debate and discussion on selected social issues, particularly national identity, free expression, technology & culture, and sustainable development.

To see the complete images of the artworks, visit http://www.canvas.ph/looking-for-juan/only-in-the-philippines.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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