Padayon Iloilo: How Ilonggo Artists Show Unwavering Spirit Despite The Odds

Cris Antonio |

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The art industry was one of the hardest hit when the pandemic struck in 2020. More than a year later, its effects are still felt by artists. Nearly empty exhibits, low sales, and limited resources are just a few of the issues they face today.

It may seem like the odds are against them - but artists are not alone. Through the combined efforts of local government agencies, the private sector, and their own following, they continue to create the incredible. As they say, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 

Popular festivals like the Iloilo Dinagyang are a great avenue for local artists to promote their works and find an audience. And with this year’s theme: ‘Padayon Iloilo Upod Kay Señor Sto. Niño’ (Forward Iloilo with Sr. Sto. Niño), it’s our honor to showcase the unwavering spirit of our painters, musicians, photographers, and tattoo artists. 

Ilonggo Artists for Dinagyang 2022

Jecko Magallon: Painter/Muralist

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Inspired by street art, music, and festivals, Jecko Magallon began making murals at home. Their walls didn’t have finishing, so he took advantage of the blank slate. Eventually, people noticed the quirky, vibrant, and often surreal paintings. Jecko soon took commissions using his own style. 

“My Lola said it’s ugly. Maybe it’s trippy; some said it’s like neo-expressionism… It’s vibrant…childlike…a beautiful mess…it’s like a puzzle wherein you need to connect the dots…”

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There are definitely traces of Banksy, Picasso, and Dali in his paintings. It’s a mix of everything he has ever seen or heard, experienced, and dreamed. 

“Filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik (Eric Oteyza de Guia) is one of my favorite local artists.”

He said the pandemic gave him more time to practice his craft. But there were disadvantages. There was a drought in art shows, but he keeps himself busy with other projects. Jecko says the local art scene is thriving, and he loves meeting new folks with similar interests.

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When asked about making money through art: 

“I paint shirts during Dinagyang. I work with other clothing brands. From 2016 to 2019, we were usually sold out. I used the money to buy expensive materials like acrylic paints. What can I say? Do whatever you’re passionate about even if there’s no money involved. You won’t think about it at first, but you’ll grow from the experience.” 

Follow him on his Instagram account @jeckool

Robert Jude Alajar: Tattoo Artist at bertINK Tattoo

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Robert Jude Alajar got his first tattoo when he was 19. Now, with more than 10 years in the business, he’s learned a thing or two about customer relations, criticism, and improving his craft. 

“The local art scene, specifically the tattoo industry, is growing. There are lots of good artists and new ones who want to introduce themselves in the local scene. I look up to many of them, not just in tattooing. I admire Cezar Aro - his passion and artwork is something that inspires me…”

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He admits that his business became unstable during the pandemic. There were folks who said there’s no money in art. But his experiences have taught him better. 

“…I feel blessed that I was able to survive and still hold on to my client base… I'm just lucky that this generation is more open to the tattoo industry.”

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Robert wants people to realize that tattoos are just like any form of art that has value and can be appreciated by anyone. 

“I chose to tattoo because I’m fascinated by how my canvases can travel around the globe wearing my work on their skin. I like vibrant colors. I like doing portraits of people or eye-catching pieces… My favorite tattoos so far are the portrait of my parents.”

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Thinking about getting inked? Then you will adore his realistic designs. Robert can do animals, cartoon characters, abstract art, or even your childhood candy. 

Follow him on his Instagram account @bertinktattoo

Dimas Johan Ong: DJ/Producer at Emoji Records

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What began as just making music turned out to be life-changing for Dimas Johan Ong

“…My music managed to get into a digital record label based in Fukuoka, Japan…The manager ended up visiting here in the Philippines…We brainstormed an event at Flow Superclub (the hottest nightlife spot around 2012), and the rest is history.”

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Inspired by artists like Skrillex, Illenium, Seven Lions, Jarreau Vandal, BRII, and Full Crate among many others, Johan has two music styles - soul, baile funk, with a neo-hiphop approach (DIMAS), and a more chaotic, animalistic vibe (PVNDVMONIUM).

The pandemic has been hard on him and his fellow DJs. Nowadays, he feels a bit rusty and there’s still anxiety in the air. However, as soon as he drops his beats and gets the momentum going, all that disappears.

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Regarding making money with music, Johan keeps it real even though he confesses to being a dreamer.

“…In this industry, it’s all about the hustle and the grind - how many gigs you can get in a week...That’s how we make our living…”

He’s come a long way since his biggest event in 2012. Partygoers today are more open to all kinds of genres and mixes. Johan loves dropping personal edits of Macklemore’s ‘Can’t Hold Us’ to make the crowd go wild.

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“I’m proud of the stuff I produce, regardless of which genre they belong to…”

Follow him on his Instagram account @mistah_dimas

Drae Pilarta: Street Photographer

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More than just capturing memories, Drae Pilarta aims to create a unique ‘visual treasure’. Something that looks somewhat of a sketch or a painting, hobbies that he used to do before becoming a photographer.

“I try to use photography to show people how I see the world. Not just the visuals of a scene before me, but the feelings that I have; the emotions and spirit as well.”

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It’s no wonder he won the Dinagyang Street Photo Competition twice (2nd place in 2013 and 1st place in 2016). Traveling is a big part of his work. So when his trips all got canceled because of the pandemic, he needed to adjust.

“I can’t really take any photos outside as it wasn’t responsible. It was a difficult time…”

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Drae understands how hard it can be for beginners to get their names out there. But he says that with hard work, grit, out-of-the-box creativity, professionalism, and the right character, opportunities will slowly unfold for you.

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Like many artists, he has his favorites. Drae loves taking photos of random people on the street, sunsets, weddings, fashion, and landscapes. But perhaps his most treasured photo is a portrait of a 96-year-old woman named Lola Willena.

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“…She lived along the coastal road of Anini-y, Antique. We were on our way back to Iloilo City when we saw her at the front door of her house as we passed. We asked if we could take a quick photo of her. You can see the full range of emotion as you look into her eyes.”

Check out his Facebook account for more info @drae.pilarta

Let’s Celebrate Moving Forward

The future may seem uncertain or even painful, but one thing’s for sure: Ilonggos will keep going.

This has been proven time and again. From the bayanihan spirit during the pandemic to the aftermath of the typhoon, we push onwards with faith in our hearts and smiles on our faces. Just like our Ilonggo artists and Dagyang warriors, we are strong and unwavering. We dance to our own rhythm and see life in full color.

The ability to move onward despite hardships is always worth a celebration. Let’s rejoice in our wins, no matter how small. With Señor Sto. Niño and our loved ones by our side, anything’s possible.


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Author Portrait

Cris Antonio

Cris Antonio is a freelance Copywriter, Editor, and Speaker. If she’s not writing or editing, she helps business owners and young adults build their presence on the Web.