For Your Rainy Days — 05.14.2020
I’ve been familiar with Santiago Bose's work even before I met him in person. In previous interviews I admitted how Santi and Joseph Cornell had a profound influence in my artmaking.
In the 1980s, Social Realism (SR) was gaining a lot of traction in the Philippine art scene. But the impression was that to be part of the SR movement one had to be a figurative painter. Most importantly, one had to be politically aware and aligned with the protest movement. Santi was neither purely a painter nor was he part of any organization aligned with the left, yet his art and cultural activism reflected the same socio-political realities the SR artists were tackling.
While living in Sydney between 1987-1989, I was germinating an idea for a Visayan art congress. This idea was actually seeded before I left the Philippines from conversations I had with friends in BANAAG, a cultural organization in the Visayas. Upon my return in late 1989, consultations I had with former colleagues from Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) in Bacolod, and conversations with Santi and Bobi Valenzuela at Hiraya Gallery in Manila, helped formulate what later became the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) with the Black Artists in Asia. Santi thought that VIVA ExCon could be a great counterpoint to the Baguio Arts Festival (BAF) that the Baguio Arts Guild launched in 1989. I thought that VIVA ExCon and BAF could strengthen the regions and the ties between Baguio in the North and Bacolod in the South. We even conspired, although jokingly, to bypass Manila.
It was then no surprise that the first two editions of VIVA ExCon in Bacolod in 1990 and 1992, were well-attended and strongly supported by the Baguio Arts Guild. Besides Santi, BenCab, Roberto Villanueva, Katrin de Guia, Tommy Hafalla, Willy Magtibay and John Frank Sabado, were among many BAG members who came to support the fledgling biennial.
Santi's last solo exhibition, "Travelling Bones Gather No Stones", curated by Bobi, was held at Green Papaya in 2001. The day of the opening coincided with the beginnings of EDSA People Power 2, against then President Erap Estrada. The afternoon before his planned opening, we heard that fellow artists and friends were gathering at the Surrounded by Water (SBW) space in front of Robinson's Galleria near the revolution's epicenter at the EDSA Shrine. Santi made a quick decision to cancel his opening and advised expected guests to proceed to SBW instead. We then brought the food and drinks meant for his opening to share at SBW.
Some time in late 2002, Santi was in Manila for an operation to have his gallstones removed. The night before he went back to Baguio, he dropped by our apartment in Teachers Village to treat Donna Miranda and I for a late dinner at his favorite Chinese restaurant along West Avenue. He also left us with some of his artworks. When I asked why he was leaving them with us, he simply said "Keep them for your rainy days."
A few weeks later, in December 4, 2002, Donna and I found ourselves on a bus to Baguio. Santi had passed away the day before. It was the tail end of the last Baguio Arts Festival. Donna was then 6 months pregnant with our son Joaquin.
Rainy days came to us in 2008 when the French Spring in Manila lost its subsidy from the French Government. This was the account that paid for Papaya's basic upkeep since we started. So, upon losing the account, my first impulse was to close Papaya.
But Santi's artworks saved us. His works were among the first to be sold in the Night Market we organized to raise funds to keep Papaya running.
This anecdote hopes to honor Santiago Bose, cultural warrior (his words), comrade, best friend, and one of the most generous human beings I had met.
We also need to thank Roberto Chabet and a number of artists and friends who supported the Night Market. But that is a story for another time.
May 14, 2020