When I first met Marrz, he was gazing out from the bus window looking very sleepy and tired. It was in July of 2012 when I launched a collaboration project with Barotac Viejo National High School, my Alma Mater – every Wednesday, a group of local artists I invited would take over a class to share alternative resources and processes in Dance, Theater, Creative Writing, and Multimedia Arts. I had a challenging time looking for a volunteer-teacher for Visual Arts. Someone gave me the numbers of three painters living in Iloilo City.
Only Marrz said yes. From then on, he traveled to our town for the classes. It was the beginning of our journey together.
A Childhood in the ‘Hood
“Sa likod sang magamo nga lugar nga bantog sa droga, prostitusyon kag krimen, may malapad nga mga talamnan kung diin pwede kami kadalagan, kahampang, kalagsanay. Madamo sang kahoy kag matinlo pa ang suba kag dagat para langoyan. Tungod dira, naging malapit ang akon buot sa natural nga kalibutan. Kag sa paglabay sang panahon, napinsar ko nga wala na sang mas may importante pa nga mensahe nga dapat ipalab-ot sa kalibutan, kundi ang pag-amlig kay tanan dira gahalin, tanan kita apektado.”
[Behind a place that is famous for drugs, prostitution and crime, there were wide fields where we could run, play, chase after each other. There were trees and the river and sea were clean enough to swim in. Because of that, I became close to the natural world. As time passed, I thought that there was no message more important to the world than to tell everyone that we need to look after it because everything comes from there, and we are all affected.]
As an avid swimmer and snorkeler, he discovered the magical underwater realm and has promised to share the message of protecting and honoring the sea. Calaparan is blessed with a very long stretch of beach – soft sand and intense sunsets. Over the years, he saw it turn into a wasteland of trash.
“Isa sa handum ko na ang ikaduwa nga Artivism diri sa higad baybay hiwaton. Ma-focus naman sya sa edukasyon sang mga panimalay kag pamatan-on nga gaistar lapit sa amon baybay.”
[One of my wishes is for the second Artivism to be held at the seaside. It should focus on the education of the households and the youth that live near our sea.]
Art and Activism
Marrz is the grounding force of our creative ethical brand, Alima Community. Though I am mostly recognized for the venture and am often invited to talk about the project, our impact would not be as it is without Marrz’s leadership, commitment, and honesty. He holds the eco-design workshops, prepares all materials needed, crafts all our visuals, and oversees our consignment and accounting.
“Lain ang balatyagon nga makabulig ka sa iban kag makita mo sila nga ga-uswag. Ang gina-aspirar sangartist nga mabag-o ang kalibutan, kag para sa akon, indi na ma-achieve kung ang art mangin para lang sa mga manggaranon.”
[There is a very different feeling when helping others and seeing them prosper. The artist aspires to change the world, and to me, it cannot be achieved if art is solely for the wealthy.]
Through his constant effort to share the power of creativity to those who don’t have opportunities to deepen their skills, we have observed how the six women we collaborated with blossomed into empowered artists.
He is also the Core Group President of Himbon Contemporary Ilonggo Artists Group and they are creating a different culture in gallery art – making it more inclusive to artists from various ages, and styles – and enjoying the opportunity to showcase their work while holding responsibilities as organizers. The group also encourages openness by facilitating exchanges through art conversations and supporting each other in community projects.
“Kanami man batyagon nga damo kami babaye nga members. Para sa akon, sinyales ina nga progresibo ang eksena kay wala natahap ang kababaihan magpakita man sang ila nga abilidad. Maayo man kay damo mga gasugod nga first time nila mabaklan sang artwork; kag ang mga gung-an nga dugay na gid kaayo gapinta, nagabatun na sang attention kag suporta nga deserved gid nila. Kalain daan sang balatyagon nga wala ikaw gakabaklan sa malawig nga tinuig, daw mauntat ikaw kay pamatyag mo indi ka ma-apresyar. Kag kung mabaklan ikaw sang artwork , maulian man ang gastos nimo sa pagbuhat sang mga paintings kag gakapagsikan ka nga magsige kag magpursige.”
[It feels good to know that we have many female members. For me, this is a sign that the scene is progressive because the women are not afraid to show their abilities. It’s good that the many who started for the first time had their artworks purchased; and for the senior artists who have been painting for so long, they are now receiving attention and support that they really deserved. It gets very challenging and unnerving when no one buys your work despite being an artist for many years, and you feel like stopping because you’d think you are not appreciated. But if your artwork gets bought, you get a return for the costs you spent creating your paintings, and you get energized to continue creating.]
Stories in International Platforms
There was this one moment in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan when Marrz was asked to speak about the experience and impact of having an artist go out of his or her way to really be with people and work closely with them. I remember how his words brought light to the eyes of the participants:
“There is no point in underestimating people in the margins of society. They have so much to offer. As an artist, it has been life-changing to receive the gifts of their wisdom, dignity, and humor.”
Struggle and Resilience
“Kaisa, gakabalaka man ako kay Mama kay sobra na isa sya ka dekada nga bed-ridden kay kapila siya ma-stroke kag ginanerbyus. Kabudlay man kung paminsaron mo kay magluwas sa pagpinta kag pag-obra sang mga bagay nga lapit sa akon kalag, indi ko ma-antos nga pabay-an man sila.”
[Sometimes, I get worried about Mama because she has been bed-ridden for more than a decade because of her multiple strokes and anxiety attacks. It gets difficult to take sometimes because other than painting and creating things that are close to my soul, I cannot also bear to leave her behind.]
He vividly remembers the moment he arrived back to an empty house when his mother had to be rushed to the hospital earlier in the day. It was as if there was an inexorable void in his chest. His mother has always been a constant inspiration to Marrz, so seeing her go through very limiting situations tore him apart.
But this did not stop him from intending wholeness in both his personal life and as an artist:
“Gakabuhi ako gihapon sa realidad sang akon ginatuohan, pero ang gapalibot sa akon nga mga kabudlay parte man na sila sang akon pagkatawo. Indi pwede nga mapalutaw lang ako kag maglikaw. Kag kung ano ang ara sa akon mga napinta, luyag ko nga amu man ang akon ginakabuhi. Indi nga ako kag ang akon taliambong duwa ka sulianay nga kalibutan.”
[I still am conscious of the reality of my belief, but the hardships that surround me also make me who I am. It is unacceptable that I should just float and escape. The things in my paintings, I want them to reflect my life. I do not want me and my art are two opposite worlds.]
I used to walk Marrz to the waiting shed after our workshops in 2012 – he had to take the bus back to the city. Sometimes, I had to walk with him under the downpour. We would walk quietly and talk a bit in between – about art and life; about our philosophies and flaws. I’d send him off, and he’d gaze out and smile at me from the bus window.
That particular year, July had lots of rain.
It did not stop us from following the direction of the Sun.