You will be taking part in this year’s Fringe Mnl as a tattoo artist, but you are also a musician, cinematographer and artist. Can you remember the first artwork you made that was inspired by Filipino traditional symbols?
I’ve enjoyed drawing since I was young, but I started my sincere connection with ART during hard times and challenges, that inspired me to work harder. Filipinos are forced to multitask sometimes working 2 to 3 jobs to survive: I was born and raised in the Philippines and I authentically brought these hardworking traits and habits with me to Los Angeles. In 2002, I was considered undocumented or, as they say, an illegal immigrant, and things weren’t easy as I did not have the same privilege afforded to others.
If I can remember accurately, the first traditional Filipino inspired artwork that I made was a set of Sacred Geometrical Talismans AGIMAT. It was showcased at the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) 2013 in Los Angeles. At that time I was also experimenting on a music animation video.
For me ART “Sining” is a Deity or Diwata: a spirit being God or Bathala, a producer of energy for creating. This energy can be translated to unlimited forms like visual art or music which when combined together, creates films.
Before this country became enslaved and colonized by the Spanish, maybe 300 to 400 years ago, Philippines was called Islas de los Pintados (Island of the Painted or Tattoed), our ancestors were already practicing sacred tattooing.
That is why I am grateful to be part of this year’s Fringe Mnl as a tattoo artist, I consider tattoos to be one of the highest forms of a sacred art. The blood, the symbols and the intentions are rituals that are being created to last forever and are carried to the afterlife. Getting a sacred tattoo is one way we can heal the traumas of our ancestors, by honoring and remembering them.
Who are the Filipino artists that inspire your works?
The first Filipino artist that has influenced my life and sensibilities as an artist is my Lolo Eddie Sarmiento Estudillo. He used to paint murals of movie posters as a career and taught art classes at the University of the Philippines.
Then there was Papo de Asis: I saw his paintings displayed at F Square gallery in Downtown Los Angeles. His works captured what I felt at that time and sparked curiosity in me, such as issues about injustice towards indigenous people, which eventually helped me to reconnect with my culture.
The list of artists that continue to inspire my work keeps on growing, and the type of art they create varies, but almost all of them are culturally driven: Botong Fransisco, Kidlat Tahimik, Mamerto Tindongan, Danny Kalanduyan, Lane Wilcken, Virgil Mayor Apostol, Norman De Los Santos, Rafael Maniago,Rafael Kayanan, Francisco V Coching, the Center for Babaylan studies, Grace Nono, Ruby Ibarra, Gabriela Silang and many more.
You are the founder of Kultura Films. Can you tell us more about the project?
Kultura Films is an advocate for Filipino traditions. We honor the Filipino ancestral roots, zooming in to focus on indigenous practices that uncover a part of ourselves. To find more information visit www.kulturafilms.com
Journey to Ifugao is film about five Filipino artists and healers, living in LA who go back to their motherland in search of their identity. How did this idea start?
Journey to Ifugao started around January of 2018 and it’s going to be premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 5, 2019.
There’s a lot of cultural misrepresentations in Hollywood and the television industry. After working as an associate producer for Kababayan Today on LA18 TV, a program for FilAm in the United States, under the helm of host/producer Giselle Töngi-Walters, I got inspired to continue and create a film about discovering our identity.
I remember 2014 when I got a chance to go back to the Philippines after 12 years of being separated from the motherland: it was my very 1st time to document my trip reconnecting with my roots. Visiting Apo Whang-Od made me understand and respect the sacredness of tattooing and the value of our indigenous culture.
In 2017, we were invited by Mamerto Lagitan Tindongan to visit Banaue for a retreat which sparked the idea to create another documentary that now turned into a feature film. We chose to fundraise independently and asked the community to invest by creating an indiegogo campaign. We are happy that 43% of our goal was reached and we just had to work harder to make the rest of the funding happen. The film was captured during April-May of 2017, thanks to all the supporters and the power of community that made this possible, as they say ”Bayanihan”.
It’s amazing that more and more Filipinos in the diaspora decide to go back to the motherland to sincerely discover their roots and tell their stories: we all are helping to heal our ancestral traumas.
Where did your interest in Filipino traditional symbols come from? Why do you think is important to know about your past?
I remember the early years when I was exploring and was really active in the music scene, around 2006, lots of Filipino bands imitated the sounds of American music.
That made me look somewhere else for inspiration and in Placita Olvera in Los Angeles, I witnessed a Danza Azteca with their tribal drums and movements. That’s when I was led to research about my roots through the arts.I was convinced that music is ritualistic and since I was never any good at entertaining people on stage, I decided to focus more on the visual arts as opposed to performing, as well as tattooing. Playing music to connect to the divine for personal healing purposes was also a discovery.
Same with the visual art and tattooing, the majority of Filipinos that I encounter like to get American or Japanese style.
As a practitioner of sacred arts it’s my responsibility to research and discover our traditional symbols and patterns to continue what our ancestors had already been doing before and to value our indigenous knowledge.
“Pag hindi ka marunong tumingin sa iyong pinanggalingan , hindi ka makakarating sa iyong patutunguhan, dahil sa kaka kopya natin sa iba, nawawala na ang ating sariling kultura, kung walang simula, wala din katapusan.”
(If you don’t know how to look to where you came from, you won’t get to your destination. By copying others we are losing our own culture. Without a beginning there is no end)
There should be balance. There are negative traits from our ancestors that I believe we should have already learned from and not continue. The crab mentality of pulling each other down, and wasting our time thinking too much of about people issues and gossips – these are results of the tactics that the Spanish and Americans used on us to enslave, divide and conquer and to have control of our resources.
Mag kaisa sana tayo. (Let’s unite)
The spirit of bayanihan (communal unity – community) is of great value and can help us and make our ancestors happy. Let us all unite and strengthen our shared identity as KAPWA! (fellow humans)
Nicanor Evangelista Jr. will be at Pineapple Lab from Feb 8 – 10
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