By Nickky F.P. de Guzman, Reporter
IT SAYS something about the place of English as a language and medium of discourse in this country that for the first time since it started in 2014, the annual Ateneo Art Awards-Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prizes in Art Criticism has received an essay written in Filipino. And despite any merits it may have, it cannot win precisely because of the language it is written in.
Meanwhile, six essays written in English are still vying for the prestigious award, which will be presented on Aug. 26 at the Ateneo Art Gallery at the Ateneo campus in Quezon City.
The Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prizes in Art Criticism honors the memory of Purita Kalaw-Ledesma, art patron and founder of the Art Association of the Philippines. Each year the foundation calls for entries reviewing exhibits held over the previous year that it has chosen.
Maria Lourdes Garcellano’s entry, “Sinehan sa isang museo: Karatula o Obra?,” which discusses the exhibit Vic Delotovo: Posters for Philippine Cinema at the Vargas Museum in UP Diliman, has received a special citation from the awards body.
“[It is our] first time to receive an entry in Filipino. But because our partner-publications are English, she is not eligible [for the award]. The panel decided to give her a special citation instead,” Ateneo Art Gallery’s director and chief curator, Boots Herrera, told the media at the sidelines of the announcement of the finalists on July 18.
The partner-publications are the Philippine Star and Art Asia Pacific magazine, which will choose two winners who will regularly contribute art stories to the publications; twice a month for a year for the Philippine Star, and six stories for the bimonthly Art Asia Pacific magazine.
Malakas ‘yung entry (it was a strong entry), so we couldn’t disregard it because of the language,” said Ms. Herrera.
The problem is not just that the award-giving body does not have a partner-publication that prints stories written in Filipino — it is that there are few publications that do.
“Do you publish in Filipino?,” Ms. Herrera asked us, writers from BusinessWorld, Art Plus magazine, and ANC, who were interviewing her.
“We don’t have an art publication that is open to Filipino essays,” she said.
She added: “We are looking in the possibility of looking for a publication partner that will print in Filipino. Philippine Star is not doing that, although it will print a special case in August, after the awarding ceremony. It’s just that I guess it is also in the system.”
She said the criteria for an essay submission to the Ateneo Art Awards-Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prizes in Art Criticism does not specify the language it must be written in. “We’re silent in the language, but our publication-partners print English essays only. I think we will remain as is so that we will not discriminate writers who want to write in Filipino,” she said.
Ateneo has yet to sit down with the Kalaw Ledesma Foundation to see how they can encourage more writers in Filipino and look for partners that can publish in Filipino, or other languages.
“We can only offer our blog site,” said Ms. Herrera.
Called the “Vital Points: Essays from the Purita Kalaw Ledesma Prizes in Art Criticism,” the Ateneo’s blog site will be operational starting Aug. 26, and will publish shortlisted art criticisms, which will be reviewed by an editorial committee first.
The impetus behind the blog is the limited space and platform for art writers to share their thoughts. Ms. Herrera said the blog “is more flexible,” which means it can publish Filipino essays.
“It would be great to have someone writing about the art scene in the regions. That, by itself, is an important contribution to the art scene. We need to have publication-partners. What does that say [about our system], di ba?,” she said.
The shortlisted English writers and their essays are:
• Alec Madelene Abarro, “An Organized Chaos: Navigating the Looban” about Rodel Tapaya’s Urban Labyrinth at the Ayala Museum;
• Juan Paolo Colet, “Life in the Labyrinth,” on Rodel Tapaya’s Urban Labyrinth at the Ayala Museum;
• Jayvee Del Rosario, “Ossifying the Abstract” on Alfonso Ossorio: a survey 1940-1989 at the Ayala Museum;
• Jose Carlos Joaquin Singson, “Bread and Circuses in Time Roiling and Churning” on Vic Delotavo: Posters for Philippine Cinema at the Vargas Museum;
• Mary Jessel Duque, “Pacita Abad: A Million Times a Woman” on Pacita Abad: A Million of Things to Say at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design;
• and, Sabrina Jeongco, “Pacita Abad Has a Million Things to Say” on Pacita Abad: A Million of Things to Say at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design.
Together with the art criticism award is Ateneo’s Ateneo Art Awards-Fernando Zobel Prizes for Visual Arts, which also announced its 12 shortlisted artist exhibits. They are: Mars Bugaoan’s Becoming in Art Informal; Bea Camacho’s Memento Obliviscere at MO_Space; Ronson Culibrina’s Talim at Blanc Gallery; Dina Gadia’s Situation Amongst the Furnishings at Silverlens; Johanna Helmuth’s Makeshift at Blanc Gallery; Ian Carlo Jaucian’s Viral Automata at 1335 Mabini; KoloWn’s Low Pressured Area at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP); Robert Langenegger’s Only Dog Can Judge Me at MO Space; Issay Rodriguez’ ... at Silverlens; Ciron Señeres’ Gray Horizon at the CCP; Jel Suarez’ Traces by Which We Remember at West Gallery; and, Elias Miles Villanueva’s What’s Left of It at the Pinto Art Museum.
Three artist-winners will have residencies at partner institutions, namely La Trobe Art Institute in Australia, the Artesan Gallery + Studio in Singapore, and the Liverpool Hope University in United Kingdom.
Also, for the first time, the Embassy of Italy in the Philippines will give a special award called Embassy of Italy Purchase Prize, where the winner’s work will be displayed at the embassy’s office.

WORKS FROM the 12 shortlisted exhibits for the annual Ateneo Art Awards are currently on view at the main atrium of the Shangri-La Plaza mall in Mandaluyong. The exhibition is on view at the mall until July 30 and will move to the Ateneo Art Gallery in Quezon City where they will be on view from Aug. 10 until Nov. 4.
The shortlisted exhibits are:
Becoming at Art Informal
Mars Bugaoan transforms trash into art. He finds new meanings for plastic trash as he reshapes and restructures plastic bottles and plastic bags into installations, sculptures, and prints.
Memento Obliviscere at MO_Space
For artist Bea Camacho, memories can be massaged. She said: “Our memories define our experience, our reality, and our identity, but our memories are also fragile and vulnerable. They are malleable and easily manipulated.” This being said, she highlights objects — typewriter, old photographs, and newspaper dummy — that can serve both ways: help us remember and/or forget.
Talim at Blanc Gallery
Ronson Culibrina takes inspiration from his hometown, Talim Island in Laguna de Bay for this exhibit. Talim, incidentally, also means sharp in Filipino. Taking these ideas, Mr. Culibrina suggests the sharp contrasts between industrial development and a sound ecosystem; images of busy fisher folks versus the quiet lakeside environment; and nature and the tools that change people’s lives.
Situation Amongst the Furnishings at Silverlens
Dina Gadia makes collages in her all-painting exhibition. Most of her subjects are disfigured bodies in the wrong places or going through objects.
Makeshift at Blanc Gallery
Johanna Helmuth grew up in a neighborhood where pedicabs were the sources of livelihood in the morning, and were turned into makeshift homes for the drivers come nighttime. This becomes the artist’s theme: how people adapt and survive to make ends meet.
Viral Automata at 1335 Mabini
Ian Carlo Jaucian invents ways to integrate art and science. He presents this in an interactive exhibition that features robots that show light and movements as they are programmed by computer viruses.
Low Pressured Areas at the Cultural Center of the Philippines
KoloWn plays around the vicinity of the Cultural Center and makes these areas their canvas. The exhibition is site-specific, which lets the audience navigate their way around the building. It is also a critique of art institutions and art productions.
Only Dog Can Judge Me at MO_Space
In a world where judgments are easily given, sometimes without basis and regard, artist Robert Langenegger believes that dogs are the better judges than human beings because they have no biases and predispositions. He believes dogs are loyal, honest in their actions, have strong instincts, and are pure in spirit.
at Silverlens
In , artist Issay Rodriguez features a series of framed sheets of tracing paper, layered within each frame. The papers are punctured to produce dots, which looks and act like Braille signs, inviting the audience to “read” the images.
Gray Horizon at the Cultural Center of the Philippines
Ciron Señeres presents scenes in Tondo, Manila, a populous district, through his depictions of dumps and deteriorating structures.
Traces By Which We Remember at West Gallery
Jel Suarez grew up in Caloocan near a construction site, and she has fond memories of collecting pieces of chipped cement. At the same time, she recollects the summers she spent in Batangas as she stacked stones and built mounds of rough stones. In Traces By Which We Remember, the artist constructs collages with layers of contrasts, images, and textures. She sees this layering as a form of remembering.
What’s Left of It at the Pinto Art Museum
Elias Miles Villanueva creates art through collected glass shards, which he painted, stacked, assembled, and given titles taken from books, movies, comics, and trends. Each glass shard is encased in a glass box.