Sketchbook Assignment #1: Same Picture/ Different Views

I recently signed up for the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by CalArts, entitled Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers with Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. I’m so excited to learn about so much that I don’t know yet! I am also inspired by the fact that there are thousands of students around the world taking this course for free, made possible by Coursera.

Our first assignment in this eight-week course is to make two sketches: one, that stands for what I think art really should be, and the other, what I think people in the world think art should be.

That seems so broad, with so many possibilities about what other people think it should be. I felt stuck…I tried to sketch but could not capture it in just one picture. It ended up being a whole lot of written words in my sketchbook!

But it got me thinking, about one tiny aspect of this, and recalling a personal story…

If we talk about “the art world”, what comes to my mind are galleries, exhibitions, art collectors, auctions, and artists trying to make it up the ladder of “success”. And in that world, there are many intellectual people, many sincere artists, but also probably many that just go see art for the sake of the status, the crowd they want to be associated with—I come from the Philippines, and this was often the case, in a country where art is not “as accessible” to everyone.

I remember, as a young teenager, though I loved going to art exhibits to see the works, I didn’t really enjoy “that crowd” so much. I did not understand the mind of an art critic (definitely something I hope to learn more about in this course!), or the mind of an art collector, for that matter. I only knew that I loved to create, and wanted to learn more about creating. Plus, many of my friends were artists and it was something we did together, for fun.

Years later, in 2005, I held my own solo exhibition at the Sheraton hotel of Kamapla, Uganda. I’ll tell you that story some other time, but the particular moment that this assignment led me to think about, was when—as a result of that exhibition—the Kabaka (King of Buganda) purchased my painting. What an honor and experience.

Here is a photo of that artwork, entitled “My People”:

MY PEOPLEAs it became public knowledge that the king himself owned my art, I was soon getting more phone calls, and people wanted to buy “that painting”. Of course they couldn’t have the original; only a duplicate.

And I made sure to tell them, “It won’t be exactly like the picture—it will be similar, as I can never reproduce one exactly like that one.”

No one seemed to mind. Sometimes, they didn’t even know what the picture was. They’d never even seen it, or a picture of it. They’d say, “Just paint me the one the king bought.”

I ended up selling reproductions of that painting eight more times.

Although I love this particular piece of art, only I know what inspired me to paint it, and the moment I came in contact with this tribe. Those who paid to own the artwork itself will never really feel what I felt at the time, a respect and sadness/concern for the community where this nearly-forgotten tribe lived, way up on the mountains.

So I use this picture in my assignment, not because I think art SHOULD be like my art, but to represent what the process of art means to me.

To me, the picture was a symbol of:

  • Exploration (both the long journey to reach the tribe, as well as the process of creating this with pastels on felt paper)
  • Expression (The personal process of creating something)
  • The power to change one’s circumstance, or one’s outlook
  • Communication
  • Life (Art should be vibrant, exciting, striking, I often use deep colors)
  • Awareness (Hardly anyone knew that this tribe, called the “Ik”, existed. I wanted my portraits of them to tell their story, to show their faces, fears, and dreams)
  • Bridging cultures (too much to say on that!)
  • A personal experience we can (and sometimes, should) share

I know what the painting meant to me at the time…but it became valuable to others for an entirely different reason. So if I am allowed to do so, I’d like to use this picture for both illustrations.

Thanks for reading! I’ll update about the new things I’m learning from this exciting course as we go along.


Interviewing Maria Aragon

Below is the full interview I had with Maria, now published in this month’s issue of Mabuhay magazine (Travel+Lifestyle Inflight on Philippine Airlines). Enjoy 🙂

(Special thanks to Maria’s family for the interview.)

Maria Aragon: Pint-Sized Ambassador

(Mabuhay Magazine, September 2011 Issue)

In this digital age of reality-TV celebrities and overnight YouTube sensations, one eleven-year-old is using her voice to send the world a positive message.


A lot of kids have access to the internet nowadays. What should they know about using it?

You should always be aware of the content you’re putting up. You should know that what goes on the internet, stays on the internet. Be careful and make sure that you’ll never regret it. Also, always ask your parents before going on.

So do you have internet rules at home?

No, I think I’m pretty trustable!

Tell us how you got on YouTube.

My sister filmed my video, then my dad and her thought of putting up the video on YouTube.

How did you learn to play piano and sing?

I don’t know how I learned—I just sang and it happened.

So it’s natural, you never took lessons?

I only took lessons after I went on Good Morning America and they gave me piano lessons.

Were you nervous on your interviews, or are you normally quite outgoing?

The first interview I had was on a local radio station in Canada with the coolest radio guy ever. He was so welcoming; he made it natural for me to talk on air. And I guess it just went like that!

Your mom and sisters go around with you all the time. Are you close with them?

Yeah. We always have to be close, there shouldn’t be any fighting.

What do you want to be when you grow up? What’s your dream?

I wanna be in the music industry, but that’s what I wanna do now. It may change in the future. But music and singing is my passion and I want to learn more about it.

When you finally write your own music, what are your songs going to be about?

About different situations, and that we should always be thankful for what we have. A lot of songs now don’t have much meaning to them. They’re just repetitive. I think I would want to be like Michael Jackson and follow his footsteps, but with a different style. If I end up doing music, I wanna let the world know I was there. I want to make a mark on the world. I want to do something different.

What did you think the Philippines was like before you got here what were you picturing in your mind?

That there would be a lot of Filipino people!

Tell us about other places in the world that you want to travel.

I would want to go to a place, not just to visit, but to do something to help children. I would want to be a part of UNICEF. These past few interviews, before coming here, I hadn’t really talked about my view of the children in need. In the Philippines, it’s different and a lot of children are underprivileged. I kind of realized, I’m in the Philippines now!—And I should be doing something to help them.

I heard you’re doing something for kids soon?

It’s a walk called the ANCOP Global walk, in Mall of Asia. I’m gonna be walking and the money from that will go to poor children in need of education, we’re gonna help them out.

You’re eleven years old now. If you could travel into the future and tell your 20-year-old self something, what would that be?

For me, it would be, always stay grounded. And be thankful. I will never forget God and all my values. Most of all: be healthy, never get into bad stuff.

Okay, I’m going to quote you on that when I meet you again ten years from now!


Last August 21, Maria joined the ANCOP Global Walk as its Philippine Ambassador, singing the theme song a bonus track in her album, “One Hope, One Dream”. It was a fundraising event at Mall of Asia with the CFC ANCOP Tekton Foundation. The walk was held simultaneously in various major cities across the globe to provide education to underprivileged children.


Maria Aragon is the youngest of four children born to Filipino parents Bienvenido and Mitchilin Aragon, from Laguna and Ormoc, who migrated to Canada in 1997. Videos of Maria singing popular coversongs on YouTube caught the attention of celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who notified popstar Lady Gaga, who later invited Maria to perform a duet with her in Toronto. Maria’s video went viral and has since been viewed over 38 million times. She also sang for the UK’s Royal couple, met with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and guested on “The Ellen DeGeneres show” and “Good Morning America”. Last July, her family returned to the Philippines for the first time in 14 years to record Maria’s album under Star Records.

Join over 57,000 fans on her Facebook page, or Visit Maria Aragon for updates at


Photos of Maria by Mel Gatchalia

Lives Worth Living

About three years ago, a friend introduced me to a couple who ran their own business, and seemed perfect. They had been together for nearly 20 years, had two handsome teenage sons, and the beautiful wife was so eloquent in her speaking, that I remember admiring their family a lot, just by this one chance passing.

I recently learned the man had hung himself. Exactly why, I don’t know.

The shocking news made me realize that we come into contact with so many people every day, and never know their real stories, their turbulence or problems. When everything seems okay on the outside, when Twitter and Facebook updates seem like their world is perfect, who’s to say it really is?

Then again, who’s to judge? We can only accept each other as people, all passing through the same planet, living our journeys, and getting by one day at a time.  It made me think about the “friends” I do have listed, and what actual relationships are nurtured because of social networks.

Last week, I listened to two couchsurfers (whom I’ll call Will and Ray) talking about Facebook, and the conversation went like this:

Will: Everyone feels like you know everyone’s lives, based on the updates.

Roy: But it’s the start of your conversation with that person.

Will: But I would inquire as to how many of those interactions turn into real life friendships, or relationships. Because a lot of people are very curious about what you’re doing, but once they find out, you go your separate ways. So at the end of the day…

Roy: But we’re all so busy with our own lives…

Will: I think the biggest thing for me is Facebook makes it easy to be a lazy friend. For me, friendships are something that you work at, you need to make an effort to stay in people’s lives—if you want to—and FB makes it easy for people to feel like they are, but they’re not.


I know that social networks can be a powerful tool, either way. I hope we can make it something that deepens our relationships and friendships, enabling us to reach out more, to live fuller lives, to enrich ourselves and those around us with good vibes, and positive feedback.

We may not have perfect lives, but we can have perfect peace, and create solid, real friendships that matter.


Lake Sebu’s Lang Dulay

On the banks of Lake Sebu, I had the privilege of meeting—for the second time—one of the country’s “Living Treasures”.

She is a 90-year-old woman named Lang Dulay, who is an elder in the T’boli tribe. If you visit the National Museum in Manila, you can see the wall dedicated to her and her craft. But she lives in a simple home, with no electricity, and barely any material clutter.

For years, she has been weaving cloth called T’nalak, with beautiful, bold geometric designs in the T’boli colors. Inspired by her dreams, this woman is one of the last remaining indigenous people who still craft this kind of art.

As she teaches others of the generations after her, Lang Dulay hopes that her dreams will live on, long after.

We chatted with her about her work, her life story, and why she toils at the loom every day. I still find it amazing and inspiring that there are people of different cultures and nature, all living on the same planet, each with something different and unique to contribute. We need to learn more from them and be willing to let them teach us their ways, their traditions, their dreams.

(Picture: T’boli women I met back in 2007 on my first trip to South Cotabato, Mindanao)


In 1998, Former President Fidel V. Ramos, declared Bey Lang Dulay of Lake Sebu a National Living Treasure. Although abaca weaving is an art form familiar all over the world, the geometrical T’nalak designs of the Philippine T’boli people represent their traditions and beliefs.

Even the colors are significant: red, for bravery, commitment and love, and black for their struggles as an indigenous tribe. The cloth is woven into wall hangings, clothes, bags or wallets. Accessories and jewelry of the T’boli tribe, often made from horse hair, seeds, and beads, are also red, black and white.

Visitors to Lake Sebu may purchase items directly from the T’boli women at the Gono Kem Bo-I “Princess House” Store on Lake Sebu. For details, call Maria “Oyog” Aros at (+639)066345367.

Click this link for the full story of my encounter with the lengendary Lang Dulay.

March 11 Stories to Warm Your Heart

Repost by Celly Kamoi:

Some of these are taken from my friends and family’s posts on FB and others are Tweets. The generosity of heart in a time of crisis touches my soul. I love Japan, and though I haven’t lived there for 11 years, it’s still my home and I feel the pain and want to be with my countrymen. There is love and kindness out there – I’ve never felt so patriotic about my country as I do now.

Even if you only read a few, it will encourage and warm your heart. My people need your help and prayers!


  • Lots of stories coming out about people risking their lives/giving their lives to save others. What I find most touching is the little things, like the homeless people bringing cardboard to the people sleeping in the cold in stations where they are stranded. The homeless, often ignored by all of us, may not have much to give, but they are doing what they can.
  • My sister wrote: During the earthquake, I thought I was going to die. The trains were stopped, so I walked towards my friend’s house. There were no taxi’s running, the restaurants and shops were all full of people who couldn’t get home. After I’d walked 4 1/2 hours, hope was fading, the temperature dropped and I was so so cold. The masses of people crawled along like little ants dragging their feet. At that time I had just crossed this bridge, as I came down there was an old man with the trunk of his car full of “hokkairo”. He passed them out to the weary people walking, encouraging each passer by. I immediately felt warmed inside through the kindness that was shown.
  • Heard a story last night of a woman and her baby who were caught up in the tsunami. A man on a second floor balcony climbed down to help her, passed the baby up, and helped the woman up, only to be washed away by the tsunami himself. Selflessness like that is amazing.
  • In the middle of the night, I was walking home from college.  A lady at a bakery was giving out bread.  She kept her bakery open till late hours and was doing what she could do to help others.  I was so touched.  Tokyo is still not a bad place to live!  Such a heart-warming scene.
  • Seems the Yakuza up north were out in force after the quake… HELPING DIRECT TRAFFIC.
  • Just read about the citizens of Osaka showing up in droves to donate blood.
  • I was so moved by the statement issued by the UN Secretary General, saying, “Japan is one of the most generous and strongest benefactors, coming to the assistance of those in need the world over.  In that spirit, the United Nations stands by the people of Japan and we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time.”  This is a perfect example of doing good to others.  They will do the same to you, when you most need their help.
  • This afternoon at the convenience store there was a group of young punk looking guys buying drinks and beer. When they got to the register, one of them realized if he bought the beer as well, he wouldn’t have any money left to make a donation for quake victims. He returned the beer.
  • My husband walked for 4 hours to come back home.  He was feeling weak at Akabane and this man offered free coffee saying “It’s pretty cold huh? Warm up with this hot coffee!”  Thanks to the him, my husband regained the strength to keep walking.  It must have really touched him because he’s been repeating the story 5 times.  Thank you to the man passing out free coffee.
  • This afternoon, I saw a young guy who has radical looks. He donated put several ten-thousand-yen bills to a donation box saying his friends “We can buy a game anytime”. I heard his words and that made me and the people around there what is important and we donated a bit too. I re-realized that it is not appropriate to judge people by their looks.
  • When the earthquake struck Japan, I was working at the restaurant. The restaurant was almost full. After the earthquake, we guided the guest to go out from there because it could be dangerous. I thought great part of them would leave there without paying, but most of them came back and paid their bill. The rest of them, who didn’t pay yesterday, came back to the restaurant today to pay. What a beautiful country Japan is.
  • Weep! I was so touched I cried super hard! That international call from a stranger just now, it was a phone call of worry and support from someone who called their own number, except with Japan’s country code hoping to connect with someone in Japan! I didn’t quite understand the English, but I understood what the person was trying to say! She said a lot of people over there are “praying for Japan”!
  • It happened last night. A convenience store near a train station managed to open for business with a power generator. While I was waiting in a long line, the generator stopped, maybe because it ran out of fuel, and the cash register stopped. The entire store was pitch black. Everyone put the things they had in their hands back on the shelves and left, even though no one would’ve noticed if they walked out with them.
  • An elderly man, probably over 80, who was rescued from the disaster area said “We will be OK, we are pretty sure we will. We have experienced Tsunami from Chile so why can’t we do it this time?” he said with a smile. He again said with a smile, “It is useless to say something sad” to the news reporter trying to get some comments of sorrow. His wife standing next to him told the reporter sharply “Don’t take photos of our disgraceful look”. From this conversation, we can see how courageous the people who built Japan have dignity.
  • A conversation I overheard on the train between two grandmas. “The police are telling us to turn the lights off because there’s not enough electricity. We used to spend a lot of time without lights for the good of our country during the World War 2. This time, we don’t need to worry about the bombs falling over us. We’ll gladly turn off the light, won’t we?” The people around them got silent for a second. My eyes welled up with tears.