By Ida Cel Dizon and Adesa Ferraris, March 15, 2008

“…Cause there’s nothing glamorous about the sugarcane industry. I can’t make the manugtapas wear the baro’t saya while smiling under the scorching sun. It’s paradoxical.” – Nunelucio Alvarado

Born in Fabrica, Sagay City, early awakened by the fact that there is such a thing as social stratification, Nunelucio Alvarado paints anything but hypocrisy. Growing up in the locale where the sugar industry is the main source of income, it is not a surprise that most of his works are depictions of the everyday activity of those who work there.

A painting major from UP Diliman, Alvarado has been an icon on the art scene since 1975. He has carried out numerous individual and group exhibits, whether be it in the Philippines or abroad. He was recognized by the CCP as one of the most influential artists in the country and was twice the grand prize winner of the Regional Philip Morris Art Award.

Not intimidated to conform or follow any trend that limits the creativity and confine it to the boundaries of what that style dictates, this social-realist painter believes in artistic freedom. His source of inspiration for the themes and ideas he paints is his immersions from time to time. He goes to places where the manugtapas (sugar cane workers) lives and talks to them and lives as one. To get a full and vivid picture – nothing but honesty of how their lives really are. To paint the ordinary as how he interprets the stories of the manugtapas, the fishermen and vendors during his immersions, to portray the hardships of the breadwinners to provide despite insufficiency and to present the prejudiced reality of the evil forms in disguise are the reasons why he continuously holds his brush.

“Hindi kasi ako naniniwala sa mga ‘ism-ism’ na yan eh. It confines what an artist can do. I believe that there should be no boundaries. An artist should have the freedom to create what he/she pleases.”

Inspired by the stories and lives of the laborers in sugarcane plantations locally known as the sakadas, Alvarado’s artworks were mainly commentaries.  He expresses his sentiments on the social stratification through art. The images of his works convey messages that depict social issues of his hometown, specifically, the plight of the sakadas.

Looking at all his works as he explains how and why such images are there, we come to realize that his works are beyond superficial. His works aren’t ordinary. His works are not just pictures. Every Alvarado is a life story. One that you ignore, one you fail to hear, one you don’t want to see, and one you are afraid to be in. But he dared to portray it so the world could see the reality through the eyes of the manugtapas.

As what was written by, Alvarado’s typical geometric humans are humans are unreal yet ridden with so much character and spirit with their typical bright piercing eyes, heavy-set toes and arms that hint at the rigors of toil. All is set amidst a backdrop of sugar cane fields, workman tools, of women and babies trading flowers, fruits, fish fowl… The archetypal imagery his works are most known for, reflect the psychic plunges of deep despair and of a higher wisdom for a man unafraid of life. His pure artistic energy generates power that resounds in every canvass he fulfills — whether it be the idyllic scenes of his hometown or the dark terrain of the social ills of his people.

Come to the end of our tour and interview, we’d still feel the ideas and remember the images. Never again will we see the manugtapas the same as just an ordinary being but a soul fearless and extraordinary. Their lives- beyond words and their story – moving and tragic but the challenge is to make life as sweet as sugar.

Despite the bold colors and the dramatic characters, it’s not bliss that you derive from Alvarado’s work. It’s a slap of reality. Melancholia. A truth of the darkness behind the sweet crystalline substance and its making. To see an Alvarado is to experience sugar’s bitter aftertaste.

About the authors:

When assigned a role, Ida doesn’t only fulfill and perform the requirements. She goes an extra mile rendering her work unexpectedly and undeniably impressive. She’s not a huge talker making her a very nice real-live diary of secrets; she won’t tell a soul about your baggage. She’s surprisingly funny, but when the occasion calls for it, she can be likened to a philosopher and an excellent source of useable advice. She’s ferociously loyal to her family and friends. She’s silly and weird, which makes her a companion one will never be bored with.

Adesa is a hard-working person when she wants something done. She doesn’t fool around when she knows she has a task to finish. She’s incredibly resourceful and highly determined under pressure, which results in a job well done. She may be short, but don’t let her height fool you because she also has a short fuse and could blow up on an offender at any time. She doesn’t let people manipulate her, yet when it comes to friends, she’d put them at the top of her priority list.

Ida Cel Mangaron Dizon                                          Adesa Parreño Ferraris

BS Biology II                                                              BS Biology II

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