In the Blink of an Eye: An Interview with Jennifer Perez-Benliro
by Dominic Zinampan
Dominic Zinampan (DZ): Why was Guban Handuraw formed? How was it formed?
Jennifer Perez-Benliro (JB): Guban Handuraw is a group of visual artists who want to contribute to global development. It aims to empower the community by exploring who we really are and what’s within us, discover our God-given potential, and know the meaning of our existence in this challenging world.
Guban Handuraw came into being when Reggie Joey Benliro and Nelson Balberona, both visual artists from Pilar, Capiz, conversed on how they could contribute to the development of Pilar and influence its members to become responsible individuals, i.e. self-reliant, trustworthy, and having faith in God.
They planned to call it “Guban Handuraw,” referring to a group reminiscing about the past and the power to imagine. It aims to discover one’s hidden skills, and implement goals that will make its existence extraordinary and exemplary.
The effect of the Super Typhoon Yolanda which hit the province on 8 November 2013 influenced these artists aggressively to take part in the healing of its people.
They started to rebuild and refresh their artworks and planned to form a group called Guban Handuraw, focusing on what a person possesses and how they could express their God-given gifts.
The bodily movements, intellect, and emotions will make it evident that this group exists to take part in the healing of the world, by taking part in making it a better place.
DZ: How did you get involved in the 2018 edition of the Southeast Asian Art Residencies Meeting (SEAARM)? What was it like participating in it?
JB: Guban Handuraw is one of the most recognized art groups in the province of Capiz. It has actively influenced and participated in different art exhibitions, shows, and art activities inside and outside the province of Capiz. With its involvement and brand of artists, it was invited to the Southeast Asian Art Residencies Meeting (SEAARM). It was a great experience. We had the opportunity to learn different levels of art appreciation. Mostly, we had the chance to interact with different artists from other countries. We were able to hear their stories on how they express art in their own communities.
DZ: Were you, or Guban Handuraw, able to participate in any of the editions of the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) prior to 2018?
JB: Guban Handuraw was able to participate in VIVA ExCon 2016 in Iloilo City.
DZ: How did you get involved in VIVA ExCon 2018 and, more specifically, Tatsuo Inagaki's Balay Sugilanon (Story House) project? What was the experience like? How was Tatsuo able to connect with the locals in Pilar? What has Tatsuo left behind that people still find meaningful and useful? Are there ongoing communications, connections, or future plans between Guban Handuraw and Tatsuo?
JB: I would like to note that Guban Handuraw, being one of the most active art groups in the province of Capiz, is not limited to the visual arts alone, as we also engage in socio-cultural and environmental activities. Having that reputation, we were able to connect and have linkages with different institutions, one of those being the group behind VIVA ExCon.
Our interaction with Tatsuo started through a series of meetings in preparation for VIVA ExCon 2018. Tatsuo has touched more lives in Pilar, specifically the Capiz State University (CapSU) community. As a Guban Handuraw member, I had the opportunity to link with him. I invited him to my art appreciation class to give an artist talk. He also attended our seminar-workshop.
During the SEAARM Meeting & Workshop, Balay Sugilanon was introduced by my husband, who is also the founder of Guban Handuraw. Tatsuo was the main character behind the plan, which he disseminated to the group. Despite struggles regarding time, distance, and resources, our group was still able to do its part and contribute a lot to the overwhelming exhibition of Balay Sugilanon and to the VIVA ExCon as a whole.
DZ: Has VIVA ExCon and SEAARM opened up more opportunities for you? Has it forged any lasting relationships and connections for you and Guban Handuraw, both local and international?
JB: The VIVA ExCon in Capiz gave many opportunities to our talents, especially in the grassroots. Artists were given the opportunity to feel what it is like to get involved and be with different art forms and people. Many were able to discover their talents and a freedom to express themselves. Above all, it showed us the value of relationships and connections, both local and international, and that anything is possible in the blink of an eye!
DZ: Who among the Japanese attendees of the SEAARM and VIVA ExCon were you or Guban Handuraw able to make friends or connections with?
JB: We were able to connect with Tatsuo Inagaki and Ami Yamasaki, both of whom shared their time and skills with the students of CapSU. They conducted talks and workshops which were like miracles to the college students. The Hong Kong-based group Rooftop Institute, Tatsuo, and other artists were also able to connect with Guban Handuraw through a workshop with elementary school students, at a mountainous area, facilitated by the teachers.
The presence of these international personalities empowered both students and Guban Handuraw members, and widened our perspectives on what we can achieve and contribute.
This interview was conducted via email in November 2021. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Jennifer Perez-Benliro is a registered nurse and educator. She holds an MA and PhD in Public Administration and is currently the director of the Pilar Satellite College of the Capiz State University (CapSU). Prior to her current position, she had served in various capacities as campus nurse, faculty, guidance counselor, chair, and Red Cross adviser in the CapSU - Pilar campus. She spearheaded the community outreach programs and was the main proponent of the Skills Development, Advocacy, Volunteerism and Empowerment (SAVE) Program of the university. She also helped establish the CapSU Pilar Guban Handuraw Visual Arts Council. As the College Director of the CapSU - Pilar, she advocates for stronger links with the students, parents, faculty, staff, and stakeholders. Her involvement with Guban Handuraw is invaluable for the organization’s sustainability in order for it to serve the needs of the campus and the community in terms of promoting arts and culture.