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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Filipino Folk Art

As an artist, do you know who you are and what influences your art in a cultural perspective? I am a Filipino. Should I be making more artworks that are Filipino? How can I represent my heritage through my art? These are just a few questions that I want to answer as I explore my own identity as a Filipino artist.

A Melting Pot

The truth is, I don’t know where and how to start. Surely our culture and history is as rich as our sea depths but like water, there is no easy way to bottle it up. The archipelago of 7,101 islands flourished with 700,000 year old human activities that have been challenged, robbed and influenced by foreign occupations that lasted nearly four centuries or perhaps longer.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the people lived and prospered in trade, living in harmony or at times rivalry amongst other neighboring islanders and were either animists, Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims. Our forefathers had their own kingdoms, oral and written languages, laws, traditions, and beliefs. In the region, it was an advanced society. The succeeding colonial masters have beat our own identity the hell out of us. Just look at our cuisine and you can tell how confused we are. The country has become a confluence of cultures and peoples.

A sail boat at sea surrounded by dolphins, whales and creatures of the sea
"Paklalakbay" | Watercolor and Gouache | 2018

Like Magnet

I now belong to a “westernized” generation. I can relate more to American pop culture and western ideologies than my own grandparents’ way of life. But who will judge me? Never mind the Philippine history or Sibika at Kultura lessons, from early on we learn English as a second language if not a lingua franca in school. Media and most of literature are generally in English. Not that I complain. I am grateful that we learned this language for it proved quite useful in my travels. For nearly a decade I have lived in three continents, which clearly enriched me in many ways but is slowly cutting me off from my roots.

There is a longing to reconnect so I did a little bit of research with a fundamental question, ‘What is Filipino folk art?’ My search took me to precolonial times, the seafaring peoples, the masterful weaving, wood and gold craftsmanship, and finally to Philippine mythology.

In the Beginning

Let me begin with our legends, the ancient stories told from one generation to another that have long been forgotten but thanks to local primetime Telenovela productions, have been recently revived, albeit romanticized for modern audiences.

A sleeping red-haired boy curled within the moon
"Bulan" | Watercolor | 2018


Bulan, which means "moon" in many Filipino languages, was the most beautiful of the seven moons that adorned the night sky. He was personified as a young boy who loved playing along the beach when no one was watching.

A sea monster swallowing the moon
"Bakunawa" | Watercolor and Gouache | 2018


In Philippine mythology, Bakunawa was once a sea nymph who loved the heavenly bodies. She loved so much the bright moons adorning the night sky that she turned into a sea monster and devoured them one by one. Bulan escaped for he was frolicking by the beach completely oblivious of the terror. Bathala, the god of all gods, punished Bakunawa who would forever remain a horrible monster. Vengeful as ever, the sea monster would resurface to swallow the moon once in a lunar eclipse.

A cross-seated black-haired woman with fruits and flowers headdress holding a piglet and an owl perched on her lap
"Sinukuan" | Watercolor and Gouache | 2018


Apúng Sinukuan (hispanized Mariang Sinukuan) is the diwata or mountain goddess and protector of Mt. Arayat, an extinct volcano in Pampanga. She is known to leave food on the doorsteps of the unfortunate ones and to judge the wrongdoers—humans and creatures alike. She once punished men who have abused her generosity and turned them into pigs. People pray to her for good harvest.

A naked woman and man emerging from a giant bamboo tree in the jungle and a bird  flying over them
"Ang Alamat ni Malakas at Maganda" | Watercolor | 2018

Malakas and Maganda

The Legend of Malakas (the Strong One) and Maganda (the Beautiful One) says that once, a magical bird, Magaul, pecked on a bamboo and cracked it open. From within emerged the first humans that birthed after many generations the present Filipinos.

Just a Taste

These artworks were the outcome of reimagining the mythical beings. It doesn't end here, though, for the Philippines is a wealth of legends and craftsmanship that is worth telling and showing to the world through my eyes, words and brushstrokes.

Note: A good resource of Filipino folktales and characters is the Aswang Project.


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