#ArtdropSpotlight | Vena Martinez

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#ArtdropSpotlight | Vena Martinez

While illustrating human figures with perfect proportions and a distinct style is an amazing feat in itself, to turn one's art into an instrument to promote a powerful advocacy is something else entirely. For almost three years, Vena Martinez has been spreading awareness of Cordilleran culture through her incredible street art. What started out as an academic requirement during Vena's studies at University of the Philippines Baguio turned into a full on artistic pursuit, eventually, garnering the support of the National Research Council of the Philippines and National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a competitive grant qualifier.

In this first installment of #ArtdropSpotlight, Vena gives us a little peak into her world, walks us through new studies for the ongoing Hila-bana project and shares her creative pursuits amidst this lockdown.

 Taken during the early days of Project Hila-bana. Photo from Vena Martinez Online.

 "I label myself a street artist not because I want to be part of the underground art scene. Instead, I believe in its democratic power to educate."

Vena explained that by painting the major ethnolinguistic groups in the Cordillera Region, her art does not only become a form of expression but also a visual learning tool for the both locals and tourists. She also believes in the emotional connections the public can have with the murals, as the subjects depicted are derived from real-life stories of the locals in Baguio City.

"The subjects centered on the depiction of cultural diversity among the neighboring Cordillera groups (notably the Ifugao, Bontok, Ibaloi, Kankanaey, Kalinga, Apayao, Gaddang, and Tingguian) are attributed to diachronic culture change. I started scouting possible models/subjects within the corresponding groups for a deeper sense of connection in the contemporary setup or as I would like to call it, individual immersion.
From the Tagalog term hilbanahan meaning temporary stitching or basking. The term used for this project symbolizes the action being made alongside the walking individuals of different ethnicities. Hinihilang habi or the infamous red string that encompasses the different ethnolinguistic groups in the region. The red string depicts the major material used in indigenous weaving traditions."

The artist at work. Photo from Vena Martinez Online.

What were you working on prior to the lockdown? How has the all this affected your practice as an artist?

"Prior to the lockdown, I was supposed to start the Hila-bana street art hunt as I had already created working permits for the walls around the city, also to work on other commissioned murals and studio projects in Baguio. Unfortunately, when the lockdown was engaged, I was in Tarlac with my parents, so all my creative resources were left in Baguio. I have limited means of creating whatsoever. On a positive note, I was able to spend more time with my family (and dogs), since previously I tried living independently from them, I hardly had the time to embrace my home. I brought my laptop with me, so it is all good! Creative engagements were not a problem as everyone was focused on COVIDigitalization.

[As] creatives were given the gift of time, I was able to meditate on things I really want to pursue in life. I started enrolling online courses that I can use to integrate into my creative endeavors. I created a series of project proposals and submitted them online to different galleries and agencies for the welfare of Culture and the Arts. This quarantine [also] enabled me to enhance my professional business by visually reformulating my websites and creative portfolio."

A glimpse of the artist's Baguoi studio. Photo from Vena Martinez Online.

What is your routine like these days? Have you been working on new projects, collections, or pieces while in lockdown? 

"My daily routine is mainly composed of drinking coffee, cooking breakfast, reading one chapter from a book, watching Netflix or doing figurative studies (while drinking coffee), feeding the dogs, cleaning, [and] Strong Nation Exercise. It is hard to get in the zone of creating these days, especially when it comes to creating something with a “wow” factor. But when I do get in the zone, I tend to miscalculate my time and overkill my sleeping pattern. I am most excited when I wake up in the morning and I get to drink my gorgeous coffee with my family. I am blessed to see my parents healthy, as they are both frontliners in their respective government agencies. Simple things in life are free.

I am currently creating digital and traditional pieces for upcoming physical and online exhibits. I have also been producing collaborative works with academics from different universities and famous local artists I met on Instagram. One of the things I look forward to every day."

"Creatives are labeled as 'non-essentials' and that is probably one of my biggest frustrations right now." 

"I do believe that art can be a medium of hope and can address essential opinions which are just as important as anything else in this time of crisis. I thank you, Artdrop, for your emergence and that we took the leap in helping our community. In terms of help, we can show to the world what artists can contribute to further bolster and institutionalize the power of art. Tulong tulong tayo!"


A piece from Halikha: a joint exhibit venture of Vena Martinez and Taipan Lucero. Photo from Vena Martinez Online.

In the end, Vena talked about things that gave her hope. With just as much passion as she has for her career and advocacy, she expressed her love for her family and fellow artist Taipan Lucero. Everyone around her knows how much she values these relationships. Despite these trying times, Vena looks forward to many things like finding other opportunities to serve, pursuing more meaningful projects, and even finishing a Fullbright Scholarship application. And there are also simpler things like coffee and meeting other creatives.

See more of Vena's work on Artdrop here. To contact Vena directly, visit her website or check her work on Instagram.

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