His paintings usually depict the plight of the sakadas or the sugar plantation workers of Negros yet for his first exhibit at the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, Nunelucio Alvarado offered a fresh narrative for the collection entitled: “Stories of Restoration, Songs from the Sea.”
A well-recognized Filipino social realist, Nunelucio Alvarado’s work is known for his exceptional rendition and critical presentation of social relationships and class division in the elite-dominated land of Negros. The themes and the subjects discussed by his artworks are consistent with the social realist group Kaisahan. Formed in 1976, the group possess illustrious members who were movers of the social realism movement in the country like Renato Rentoria Habulan, Neil Doloricon, Pablo Baen Santos, Papo de Asis, and Ilonggo artist Antipas Delotavo.
Fondly called as Nune among friends in the art circle, his works is distinctive because of its large-scale depictions of the difficulty, hardship, poverty, oppression, and despondency – characteristics that describe the lives of the sakadas and their families in the hands of landlords in the sugarcane field of Negros.
Alvarado is also an important figure in the Visayas region being a founding member of the Black Artists in Asia, one of the most prominent collectives in the region, which includes progressives and contemporary Negrense artists: Charlie Co, Norberto Roldan, Perry Argel, Boysie Imperial, Jojo Regollo, and Dennis Ascalon. This is the group who were instrumental in organizing what is now considered as the longest running Visayas art biennale – the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon).
Everyday stories of home
Alvarado’s work is defined by ILOMOCA administrator Dr. Cynthia Ticao as a set of works which “appeared to be a far cry from the jarring depictions of life in the cane fields and mills for which Alvarado has been known for.”
In this collection, Alvarado shares inspiration from the community he helped shape by way of giving back through art what he himself has gained for over three decades of practice in the coastal hometown of Sagay, a second-class city in Negros Occidental.
Alvarado underscores the peace that he has found in the place by saying “Inaawitan ako ng dagat,”(I am being serenaded by the sea) a condition which motivated the artist to help enrich the lives of the community people through his art and which also paved the way for a new kind of prosperity.
While the shift of the subject was observed from the oppressive conditions in the cane fields to a more lighthearted setting like the coast of Sagay, the theme of Alvarado’s work remains contextually grounded in the local. It revealed that Alvarado still draw a strong connection between both forms of engagement by using his art to reach out and to communicate to a wider audience outside the region.
The connection is highlighted in the collection with works like Kaupdanan sa Kampo (99.6” x 57.9”, oil on canvas, 2012) displayed side-by-side with Isda sa Dughan and Green Fish, among the two of his recent works on show.
“Nune Alvarado’s ‘Songs from the Sea’ is a moving masterpiece that showcases the beauty of Filipino culture even in mundane everyday experiences,” intoned Tefel Pesigan-Valentino.
Tolentino, who is the vice president and head of business development and marketing for Megaworld Lifestyle Malls, defined the exhibit as a milestone for it expressed the “beginning of its commitment to uphold the undeniable talent of local creative minds and the promotion and preservation of art in the entire region.”
A proverbial story-teller
The 68-year old social realist was born in Fabrica, Sagay and earned an Arts degree in Bacolod City in 1968. He was educated in painting at the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Alvarado’s work has earned him recognition yet he remains among the most down to earth person in the art circle having raised a family as a full-time artist for close to five decades now. He now operates Kape Albarako, a café and art space which has become an art hub of the creative community.
While his art discusses complex realities in society, his presentation is usually weaved like a story. This kind of approach on canvas has earned Alvarado the reputation as a proverbial story-teller. In Songs from the Sea, the most ordinaryof objects like rocks, sticks, paper, and plastic highlighted the story.
These items may have appeared mundane and insignificant yet recovering these items have showed Alvarado’s attempt at reclaiming humility and it demonstrated his recognition on how space can be shared not only within society or by humanity, but with everything that surrounds us.
The collection is informed by Alvarado’s experience. He recounted how his toe badly bled after his nails was shattered by a rock. But instead of airing exasperation, the even-mannered artist pulled off a brush and gave a stone a color by painting it. The episode allowed the artist to express: “Nawala ang depression ko dito!” or my depression went away because of this.
The experience started his affair with the so-called small things that made up the showand which reflected what art critique Alice Sarmiento described as an “affair that builds upon the notion that art is not only restorative, but radical in itself.”
His art emphasized these affairs in Kaplastikan ni Alvarado, a set of mixed media work composed of bits and pieces of plastic washed ashore in Margaha Beach of Sagay which were collected and placed inside used water bottles and in Alvarado Nagbato? – a set of acrylic painted volcanic stone of different sizes and shapes.
The work of Nunelucio Alvarado gestured a certain sweetness and itmotivated acknowledgement that color draws happiness and breathes life into space.
The Stories of Restoration, Songs from the Seawill be on show until December 10, 2018 at the Hulot Gallery, ground floor of the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.