Monday, February 9, 2015

the empress of cool

the empress of cool
agora magazine "saud issue"
vol. 1, issue 2, january 2015
words: jay salvosa
art direction: paolo sumayao
photography: santy calalay
hair & make-up: marck pabilona
Briefly go through her body of works, her big feats of little wonders and call her Bidibidi (a play on her name's initials) and for once forget she was once a Bernadette.  As a child, her fingers found mutual affinity with the paintbrush and sewing materials - her idea of beauty in the realms of cotton and canvas is one truth she held on to.  Art contests after art contests her recognition came.  She was on the road t fame.
And so it seemed.
Her passion, however, was put on a momentary halt right after high school.  Though it felt right that she take up fine arts in college, her mother - who settled that art does not put food on the table - made the young, carefree, albeit heartbroken artist to enroll in a course distant from her interests.  She went to take up Business Management at the Ateneo de Manila University, and earned her degree in 1984.

She then joined prestigious organizations such as Pfizer, Zuellig and PAGCOR, providing her the opportunity to travel and see the world.  One might assume that at this point there is just no way she would ever go back to her one true love - it has paid for a lifestyle she was very happy about.  The universe, however, has its way of putting people back into the arms of their first loves.
In the late nineties, she decided to take up Elementary Education as a second course.  One summer afternoon, in an art class, she found herself reunited once again with the paintbrush, which somehow reigniting her primordial skills and interests, her rigor and passion towards the Arts.
Her big break happened across trans-pacific seas in 2002, when she viewed an exhibit in Monterey. Perhaps it was due to her deep fascination, or her immaculate style sensibilities or an aura of childlike curiosity which exuded, that made the Seaside City Mayor take note of her while she was examining the paintings.  It was a fateful tete-a-tete - he asked her if she's open to the idea of mounting her first exhibit.  After exchanging interesting points, the conversation led to her meeting with the commissioner, she was able to set an appointment with a panel and underwent an interview that would make all other panel interviews a simple conversation over tea. The rest, as they say it, is history.  In 2003, she showcased her watercolour paintings and for the first time in many years and in a country foreign to her, she held up herself as an artist.  She sold pieces after the exhibit and went home a changed person.
Picking-up the Pieces: La Huerta de Rosario

What steered bidibidi further to her calling, however, came in the form of a sad passing - her mother passed away in 2004.  Armed with nothing but a certain business acumen, paint-stained brushes and a few canvases, she inherited the responsibility of taking over their immense land.  Why, she could have hired tenants to take care of the land, but bidibidi took a different, more challenging path.  With her inner creative gears turning, she saw the farm as a canvas, as a medium, her definitive ouevre, hectares of land with great potential.  She had an epiphany one morning and it was as if angels announced it in hymns;  she is to become an artisan.
Aside from having affinity with art, Bidibidi also had a latent green thumb (perhaps something which she had inherited from her late father who was a coconut farmer), that she planted the first trees herself at the farm.  She began from scratch and backed her actions with research, perhaps free seminars through the Department of Agriculture.  Her resources being limited at that time, the free seminars opened her eyes to the proper, more environment-friendly processes of cultivating the land.  She was on the road to build an agricultural empire where business worked for nature's bounty (and not the other way around) but she went further: there's just so much to share to her community and hence the farm became an open enterprise of sorts.  La Huerta de Rosario (Spanish for Rosario's Garden) was born out of this need.  La Huerta goes beyond one's usual farming experience.  The four-hectare lot also serves as a creative space, a conduit of untapped possibilities.  People go to La Huerta not just to learn the right ways of planting crops, but also to share their passion and expertise on several fields via seminars and workshops.  Visitors can also order food using ingredients fresh out of the farm.
Managing the farm is never easy though, especially when it sits on a region frequented by typhoons.  In 2006, La Huerta de Rosario experienced its first massive damage due to typhoon, and they were only able to fully recover a year later.  Recently in 2014, it took another hit from typhoon glenda, but due to previous experience, they were ready and recovered quickly.

Farm & F.A.R.M.

Bidibidi's seemingly endless energy is not only spent on La Huerta's logistic requirements though.  During her free time, she gives attention to her other love - fashion - specifically on earthy, kitschy accessories.  Ever wondered how it began?  She has initially honed her craft in patchwork - a centuries-old sewing technique where one sews together different types and prints of fabrics to create a tapestry with vivid patterns.  She collects fabrics from old clothes (usually from various sources such as the ukay-ukay).  Whenever she deconstructs them she would keep the buttons, zippers, etc.  Her little collection of buttons grew.  When she showed her collection to a visiting friend from Canada, and with the same level of fascination for crafts she had, her friend taught Bidibidi how to make accessories out of these buttons.
This nifty new skill sparked an enterprise. With a market ready for eco-friendly pieces, Bidibidi found herself selling her bracelets made of buttons, and through social media (yes, even word-of-mouth), sales have been consistently solid.  Her business venture has progressed into F.A.R.M. (Fabulously & Absolutely Rural-Made) enterprise, tapping both social and environmental sensibilities.  from patchworks and buttons, her products have expanded to bags, rings, ornaments, sandals, and even apparel.  Recently, she had the idea of incorporating hand-woven fabrics from Buhi into her works and even showcased her pieces in a fashion show last year.
Through this creative endeavour, she is able to weave new purpose from old fabrics, deconstructing forgotten beauty and reconstructing them into new opuses.  Her beliefs on life and nature are well reflected on the intense vibrancy of her products.  When one visits The F.A.R.M. Shoppe in her home, or at other various local and regional trade fairs, one can sense that immense vibrancy manifested by the strong colours of her trinkets and shop design.  Her media mileage goes from social media, a blog she keeps religiously, and television features thus building a solid following, with the figures growing by the minute.
Cafe des Artes.  Art as Giving Back

Putting both her passion and vocation in full circle is her return to the canvass.  A few years ago, aside from La Huerta, Bidibidi has also provided another creative space:  Cafe des Artes.
On a number of instances one would find Bidibidi silently working on a canvas in her spare time.  On other instances, one would be in awe of her well-curated collection of works gained from her travels.  Initially she envisioned her home as a space to put up her works, a personal gallery of sorts.  In 2010, she commissioned five local artists to design her wood posts.  The five artists arrived in the same level of awe as a fan in front of a bencab piece, even an amorsolo.  It was a moment that someone raised the subject of the art space, or the lack thereof.  It was the perfect proposition - she invited the artists to collect and catalog their best works for an exhibit at Bidibidi's home.  In august of the same year, Cafe des Artes had its first exhibit.
The exhibit was successful and its news was about to go downtown and into the busy streets of Baao.  Other artists tried to reach her, requesting a reprise, to have their works showcased.  The request was granted and their exhibit was opened in December of the same year.  This has also become a contributing factor to the birth of a local group, the Burikbutikan, which Bidibidi is also a member.
A few kilometers from La Huerta, the gallery's structure provides this charming vibe of wood and stone, an old house of memories embracing both old and new.  A door in the Cafe also leads to a colourful space containing F.A.R.M. products for sale and other paintings which are not included in the exhibit.  Until now, the rotation of showcased artworks at the Cafe des Artes has been constant and consistent, and more artists have benefitted much thanks to the gallery.
The key to Bidibidi's unrivaled success is her unwavering energy empowered by her passion for the Arts - something people her age can definitely learn from her.  Her hands-on approach to the business, however, is the champion of organizational leaders and it seems that her supreme stint at business school proved her mother right this whole time.  Whenever she is on her hometown, she is always at the farm, meticulously surveying the property and carefully nurturing the plants.  For her, presence is very important, as she herself would be there to personally welcome the guests and share the stories about the farm and her art.  Bidibidi serves as the life core, the ambassadress, the connoiseur, the ringleader, the nurturer - the mother who takes care of her children, her creations.
What makes Bidibidi's ventures so valuable is that it involves everything she is passionate about:  art, spirituality and respect to the environment, and the love of her hometown Baao.  She likes to get people involved, to participate in her art and advocacy.  Her F.A.R.M. has already helped several people, providing livelihood and scholarship to the many men and women in Baao, showing them how valuable they are in life's grand design.  She is the one and only Grandmother Willow - the barks on her will remind you of her as a tree that never stopped growing.