The Davao-based artist depicts the cultural heritage of her own community in Bukidnon through vibrant colors, optical backgrounds and surrealist landscapes.

Filipino regional artist Judelyn Villarta spotlights the indigenous culture of her birthplace at the Upstairs Gallery of Finale Art File in Makati, through 30 August 2018.

Artist Jude Villarta with her painting 'Kaliga', 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Artist Judelyn Villarta with her painting ‘Kaliga’, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Many are the things that lure one to the paintings of 24-year-old Judelyn Villarta. If we were to look into the aesthetics of these, we would notice that the young Filipino artist combines figurative painting with a childhood past time, doodling. Looking at composition, we would find that every hue and shape used depicts holds meaning to the tribes in Bukidnon, the province where Villarta was born and raised. And, a closer look at her style reveals that this painter’s works, though depicting the tribal life, have an animated quality to it. “That was what I was really interested in as a kid” claims Villarta upon hearing that the characters in her paintings look animated rather than realistic. She further explains to Art Radar,

I wanted to pursue animation back then, because I was exposed to all these shows from Japan and Disney while growing up. But since there was no university or college nearby that offered animation as a course, I decided to pursue Fine Arts (FA). That’s how I ended up studying FA at the University of Mindanao.

Jude Villarta, 'Panalabugta', 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Jude Villarta, ‘Panalabugta’, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Life in Art School

Asked what she remembers most about her years of studying art, the artist giggles, sharing:

I was actually the only girl in my batch! The rest were guys… And no! That really didn’t bother me. The guys I studied and graduated with were supportive and protective of me. They were interested in my ideas, my style, and being the only girl then was just something I had to through. Our subject explains that in Bukidnon, where the agricultural industry thrives, children are expected to pursue nothing but courses related to the field. Being an artist there is just unheard of!

But that wasn’t all that Villarta had to go through. “I honestly wasn’t too fond of drawing human figures in the beginning, but our professor stressed that we wouldn’t move any further if we’re not able to master it. When we were told that, I worked hard in learning it,” she recounts. Back then, she didn’t expect that figurative drawing would be integrated to the works she’ll create as a professional artist, but she’s glad that it did.

Jude Villarta, 'Nalandangan Warriors', 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Judelyn Villarta, ‘Nalandangan Warriors’, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

In fact, the concept of her first solo exhibition “A Glimpse of Bukidnon” was developed during her thesis year in arts school. And once again, her professor played a huge role in the direction of Villarta’s work, “we were advised to pursue art that spoke of home or the place where we grew up in. To be able to come up with good research, I traveled back to Bukidnon.” And, it was during that trip of hers that she came to appreciate and tackle the culture of the land.

Rediscovering Home

I remember going to the Kaamulan Festival many times as a kid, but I never really paid attention to what the festival was about. It was only through researching for my thesis that I realized how wonderful this festival is. Here, the seven ethno-linguistic groups come together as one. A Glimpse of Bukidnon expounds on my thesis, showing elements of the festival, as well as the lives of the indigenous people of Bukidnon.

Jude Villarta, 'Offerings to the Spirit' (detail), 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Jude Villarta, ‘Offerings to the Spirit’ (detail), 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

To honor her homeland and its culture, Villarta made sure that every element she placed on the canvas reflected the beliefs and practices of the people from Bukidnon. The doodles found in the background, for instance, aren’t just random patterns. These mimic the cloth woven by the tribes.

As you could see, most of my backgrounds are composed of diamonds. The diamond to them signifies the heart. And the color red, which I use often in my paintings, to them means bloodline. You could tell from these what’s important to them, and that they’d like their identity to live on. As a young artist, I can relate to this, I do struggle to find my identity. As for the mandala that you could see, that resembles the gong that’s used to call the tribes together. I wanted to make sure that everything had meaning.

Jude Villarta, 'Pulanguihon (detail), 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Jude Villarta, ‘Pulanguihon (detail), 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

When asked how viewers have reacted to her culturally-sensitive paintings, our artist-in-focus notes that what’s not seen in her canvas is sometimes translated to her trying to compensate for skills she hasn’t mastered.

Some have questioned why the people in my early works all have their eyes closed while performing the rituals. That’s because that’s what I have observed. In the Kaamulan, they close their eyes in order to really concentrate on what they’re doing. Some also have asked why I don’t draw the lower part of the body. They must think that I’m not good in drawing legs and feet... I probably will show those parts in the future. There’s more to come. I’d like to continue painting about Bukidnon.

Jude Villarta, “A Glimpse of Bukidnon”, partial exhibition view at Finale Art File, Manila. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Judelyn Villarta, “A Glimpse of Bukidnon”, partial exhibition view at Upstairs Gallery of Finale Art File, Manila. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Basking in Bukidnon and Beyond

While she is open to accepting commissions that tackle other subjects and doesn’t know yet until where she’ll take her series on Bukidnon, Villarta is sure that she would like to be known as an artist who painted about her homeland.

Being an artist isn’t easy, especially if you’re from Mindanao. There aren’t galleries there to showcase your works. Art exhibitions there are usually held in shopping malls. And then, there’s also me. I honestly don’t paint everyday. There really are times when you’re not in the mood to paint or you’re discouraged. But in the end, this is what I want to do. I want people to know more about Bukidnon through my art.

Jude Villarta, “A Glimpse of Bukidnon”, partial exhibition view at Finale Art File, Manila. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Jude Villarta, “A Glimpse of Bukidnon”, partial exhibition view at Finale Art File, Manila. Image courtesy Javelyn Ramos.

Prior to her first solo exhibition, A Glimpse of Bukidnon, Villarta has been part of numerous group shows that feature the artists from the southern regions of the Philippines, including Ugnayan Artistic Impression of Mindanao Life at the Abreza Mall in Davao (2018); Southern Sensibilities Second Series at the Manila House Private Members Club in Taguig (2017); and Southern Sensibilities at the SM Art Center in Davao (2016). She currently resides and works in Bukidnon.

Javelyn Ramos

2318

“A Glimpse of Bukidnon” by Jude Villarta is on view until 30 August 2018 at the Upstairs Gallery of Finale Art File, located at Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound (Gate 1), 2241 Chino Roces Ave., Makati City, Philippines.

Related topics: Filipino artists, emerging artists, painting, identity art, art and the community, gallery shows, events in the Philippines

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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