With major Australian institutions showcasing Filipino artists this year (Rodel Tapaya’s solo show recently opened at the National Gallery of Australia, while the ‘Bayanihan Philippines Art Project’ will take place at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and a number of state-wide galleries from mid-year), it’s fitting that Australians include Art Fair Philippines (AFP) in their Asia-Pacific itinerary. The Manila-based event has expanded its reach since the inaugural 2013 edition, and while professionally run is a more grassroots affair than its neighbouring Hong Kong and Singaporean behemoths.
Like many muggy Asian cities, Manila has a fondness for shopping malls, which function as air-conditioned urban thoroughfares as much as retail destinations. It was refreshing, then, to discover that the fair takes place not in the mall-like labyrinth of false white walls and vast ceilings of a convention centre, but in a multistorey indoor carpark – a playful, edgy setting well suited to the prevailing mood of positivity and curiosity. This year’s iteration (staged 16–19 February) saw 46 galleries participating, with a dozen of those based outside the Philippines, predominantly in Asia. AFP was a celebration of Filipino art, both emerging and established, and of formally recognised National Artists, who are an ongoing source of pride for Filipinos. While work varied from the traditional to the experimental, there was a notable prevalence of collage, assemblage and playful materiality.
Attendance of AFP increased from 22,000 in 2016 to a remarkable 40,000 this year. Some were drawn to the scheduled talks, held in a marquee in an elegant rooftop cafe area (who says carparks can’t be chic), with artists, authors and curators from around the globe. Audiences were curious and forthright with their questions, with a keenness to invite international visitors to understand and consider Filipino art within its broader international and regional context.
Chloé Wolifson, Manila