A few years ago, social realist artist Emmanuel "Manny" Garibay and his wife Edna were in search of a new way of life. The couple found a farm in Alfonso, Cavite, where they would build a home for kids Alee, Nina, and Bam. For the Garibays, living away from mainstream influences also means pursuing an alternative culture built on activism, passion for the arts, and self-awareness.
The family would soon open their doors to welcome Filipino creatives under Artletics, a movement that emphasizes art as a progressive evolution of ideas. When they launched Artletics and, afterwards, Linangan Art Residency, the family drew on their beliefs to cultivate self-discovery and a more honest approach to artmaking.
Like their home, their programs are anchored on community. For instance, Linangan, a seven-week program, invites artists to Cavite, where they can hone their artistic and leadership skills through mentored studio practice, art classes, and immersion in community-building projects such as river clean-ups and organic gardening. Accommodation and food are free. In return, residency artists share their skills and working time to contribute to the program. Informal classes and discussions on art history and basic art management also occur. At the end of the residency period, artists must exhibit a new body of work. As Alee puts it, "That's how we empower each other. Artists give to other artists."
Below, Manny, Edna, Alee, Nina, and Bam talk about their family, opening their home to pursue their advocacies and their journey to building a creative community where artists can regain their voice and empower themselves.
The interview has been edited and translated for length, clarity, and accessibility.
On being a family of artists
Bam: Being in a family of artists means that everyday is completely new and never boring. It can be quite stressful because we don’t subscribe to routines and schedules are always in flux, but for the most part, it adds up to a very colorful and adventure-filled life.
Alee: Aside from being a family of artists who paints, we are more defined by our projects together. We work mainly through Artletics, and most people know us through the projects that we do as a community.
Nina: I agree with Alee. There are a lot of families who paint, but I think most people know us as a team who collaborates on our projects.
Manny: We just do what we do. The idea of getting known as a family doing the same thing was never planned. It just grew organically. So, it's interesting that we're talking about it now since being a "family of artists" sounds like a gimmick sometimes. There are always families of artists. We haven't had an exhibition as a family, but we have done so many activities together, and what I like about it the most is that we become more cohesive with every project we do—cohesion in terms of knowing each other better. As we keep on doing our projects, our relationship also grows and shifts.
ABUGASYA by Manny Garibay
On working together
Alee: We have different strengths with what we do. Nina comes up with topics. I manage the website, PR, and coordination, while Bam handles marketing, business, and planning.
Nina: Bam is the most managerial type. He checks up on us to see how we are doing with our schedules.
Alee: Yes, Bam has more of an idea in management—managing your art and life. Meanwhile, Mama does things differently. You can't contain her in any fixed role, but she gets things done. She sees details that we don't usually consider. For example, during events, she checks if people have food and gives tokens to guests. These thoughtful acts give flavor and make interactions memorable and warm.
Manny: For some enigmatic reason, because her presence is a bit off-tangent, it helps us be more focused as one unit. You have to have that kind of person in your group because we take a lot of things for granted when we just focus on our individual tasks. So it's that element of healthy distraction.
She's also the most in touch with the human side of things. She's always alert and connected, reminding us that, in the end, we are dealing with people. And in the long run, you'll realize that the little things she injects into the dynamics of the activities are helpful because that's what people remember. I think that's our strength—each one plays their role. Interdependence is our bond.
"That's our strength—each one plays their role. Interdependence is our bond."
On living with fellow artists
Nina: The beauty of being in a family of artists is that you already have feedback before you get your work out. And these guys can be very blunt, so you know precisely your points for improvement. You can also ask them for help. So they're always ready to help, and you're assured that they can execute it on a certain level.
Alee: We appreciate each other's feedback—and art materials (laughs).
Manny: It's beneficial to have fellow artists as part of the family because we are the harshest critics of each other. We exert a lot of pressure on each other not to compromise. You have to set a standard for yourself all the time. We remind each other whenever we are not that sharp or alert. However, this standard is not stressful and easy to uphold because we're never hard on ourselves. We just ensure to be vigilant and consistent because there's a tendency among young artists just to work whenever they have a show, but for you to grow, you have to keep on working whether you have an exhibit or not.
Nina: The pressure and standard have always been there since our parents know that we can do better, but they never ask for more than we can give.
"They never ask for more than we can give."
On growing up outside mainstream influences
Alee: Growing up, we asked why there are many things we can't watch, listen to, or play with. But now that we are teaching and have this place where we cultivate alternative culture, we realize the importance of not being too attached to these influences. Of course, we are familiar with them as a part of pop culture, but we are not conditioned in such a way that it affects us.
Edna: I remember when they were kids, we taught them to draw by asking them to observe the things around them. We would tell them, "Anak, i-drawing mo muna 'yung gusto mong i-drawing." When they wanted paper dolls, we didn't buy them any. Instead, they drew and designed their own dolls.
RELIEF OPERATION by Bam Garibay
Manny: When I was still building our home and felt that we were not that financially secure to send them to school, I had them stop for a year. And instead of feeling left out or deprived, it's alright with them. It worked out well. We became closer because we were always together.
And now they're beginning to understand what soft power means through the restrictions we imposed on them when they were little. For instance, entertainment is a form of soft power of the bigger powers globally. And much of that affects our culture and behavior, especially young people, so I was consciously keeping them away from that. The whole idea is you avoid alienating them from themselves. They just learned English in school. Because while it's important to be cosmopolitan and have the facility with languages to connect globally, it's also crucial to be rooted first in your own language.
"The whole idea is you avoid alienating them from themselves."
On finding their creative voice
Nina: My process is based on foreign magazines. I constantly struggle to know where this reference comes from, which is quite far from where I am. But I justify it as the things that are continually fed to us. But sometimes, when I get tired of justifying myself, I create landscapes since it gives me less pressure to defend conceptually. I always think that my work should be related to where I am or should fit in my context.
Alee: When we were growing up, the context of creating and reflecting the realities of your environment have always been emphasized, especially with Papa, who is a social realist. Back then, I had less exposure and a close relationship with the things he articulates, which weighed on me since I could only grasp them intellectually. But I realized that I am a product of my own time and class, and Papa's works are a synthesis of his experiences. Our experiences are different, and I have to be honest with myself that I am more comfortable with a formalist approach in art, where the impetus to create is dealing with forms primarily. But when I work, I also listen to the news so that my work becomes a vehicle to digest ideas.
I came to this conclusion when I realized that the result feels more constricted when I work on a piece that deliberately engages a concept or event. But when I respond to colors and images, the outcome becomes more poetic, and I can express myself more. It becomes more fluid.
MAKESHIFT by Alee Garibay
Manny: They come from a high school where it was impressed on them that artmaking has to be a predetermined, preconceived, and deliberate process. So when they deal with their work, they are still struggling with those requisites. As far as their art is concerned, I give them space. I give them all the room they need as long as they feel that what they're doing reflects who they are.
Alee: Actually, what we do in Linangan helps in building confidence. A part of our program is "show-and-tell," where artists show and explain their intention and approach to making their pieces. In turn, we also ask and apply those questions to ourselves. So we learn and grow together. And through time, you'll see that artists who have a deeper self-awareness can express and articulate things more concretely. It shows that self-awareness, honesty, and being whole are vital in artmaking.
On their journey and programs
Manny: It's an interesting journey because it started mainly as trying to respond to situations. Of course, it starts with my background as an activist and organizer, so one of the natural things for me is to organize people whenever I feel that there are issues that need to be responded to. As far as the organizing work is concerned, it goes back to when I organized Tutok during Gloria Arroyo's time when there was a state of extrajudicial killings. I partnered with friends, and we were surprised at the number of artists eager to participate and declare their positions on the issue. It became a series of events, and when I looked back and studied the roster of those events, I noticed that it involved practically all the leading names in Philippine contemporary art. That got me excited.
What followed was a desire to bring the art community together, so we organized Artletics. It's a three-day sports event for artists, where they can play, have fun and fellowship, and engage in relevant conversations. We invite speakers to talk about issues and emphasize the health and wellness of artists because we were advocating that artists should be more conscious of their health and have discipline. We wanted to break the artists' image of being "reckless." That went on for almost a decade, and then the pandemic came.
It was instrumental for us to shift to something more sustained, hence, the Linangan Arts Residency. We could maintain a more extended engagement with artists through analytical discussions and class sessions. These discussions help them realize that art is a powerful instrument in fortifying culture and affecting our thoughts and behaviors. And when they realize how potent art is, it puts them in a situation where they can be more deliberate in how they do art.
One of the things we found out in the program is that it was a transformative experience for many residents. It's also transformative for us. With every different batch, there is always something new to be learned.
Alee: During a workshop by Betty Uy-Regala, she asked our staff, residents, and senior artists the most important values that they've learned here, which were: trust, sincerity, vulnerability, and integrity. To add to what Papa said, here in Linangan, the lens through which we analyze art and its role in society is also through our set-up. We live in a communal set-up. That's why these words—trust, sincerity, vulnerability, and integrity—are so touching to hear from the staff and artists.
Regarding the potency of art and the awareness of artists in their position and role in society, we also hope that it would translate through a diminishing of the ego. Through trust, sincerity, vulnerability, and integrity, you'll understand that it's not about one's fame or glory. Once you know that you have a bigger roller in society, you can live with people in more meaningful and intimate ways.
"Through trust, sincerity, vulnerability, and integrity, you'll understand that it's not about one's fame or glory."
Bam: Our projects entail opening up not only our home to people from all walks of life, but also force us to rethink some ideas and preconceived notions about how things should be done. We learn to accept new ways of thinking from unexpected sources.
I learned how to live and work with fellow creatives and non-creatives, try new things without qualms, and be used to take the unconventional or alternate approach of doing things.
Dream and vision for Linangan
Edna: I hope that they can train other people and pass it on to them. There are people who they have already transformed and influenced. Their advocacies have expanded and influenced so many, so it's time to let these people carry on their vision.
Manny: It's still a process for people to internalize the vision. It's so easy to pick it up theoretically, but internalizing and living it is another thing. So it's an ongoing process for most of them. But some of them are promising and have shown a commitment and determination to continue with this.
Also, one of the developments is we were able to acquire a bigger space, so we envision a sort of art colony populated by artists imbibing the same culture. We hope it grows into an entity that will eventually become a representation of the counterculture that we want to create in the art scene. It's still a work in progress. We've not figured it all out.
Our experience in Linangan also helped us mature with our approach. We realized that when you're in the business of affecting people's minds and attitudes, there's so much to consider.
"We hope it grows into an entity that will eventually become a representation of the counterculture that we want to create in the art scene."
Alee: Linangan is a long-term thing. It's not just a program or project. It's more of a movement and a community—which are very organic but long-term words. When we say community, it's not simply people living together. A community is bound by its vision and values.
ENFORCER by Manny Garibay
On Linangan as their family’s calling
Edna: I'm a private person, but they have opened our homes to other people through their advocacies. So through them and what they do, our home and family grew. In terms of purpose, it's more of addressing a need. If you have something more than enough for you and will help others, share it.
"If you have something more than enough for you and will help others, share it."
Manny: That's at the back of my mind occasionally. But whenever it comes, I consciously remove that from my thought. Let that be decided by history if ever history recognizes you. In the end, the best gratification comes from the feeling that you have done what you think needs to be done based on how you recognize the situation. I'm just happy that our children have decided to be part of this endeavor where everybody in the family is involved.
Alee: I consider us as vessels. It's not about us; we are just fulfilling something. I hope that artists find themselves through what we do because that is what makes their Linangan experience transformative and cathartic. Even for a short time, they experience being affirmed for who they are or what they're good at.
Nina: My general thought is that everything has a purpose, so this is our purpose if we're here in this situation. It's also the same with the people we deal with. They have something that they can offer and contribute to Linangan—as much as we have something we can provide for them—and these are both important to build something great.
On the role of Filipino artists in today's climate
Manny: There's a need to recover a sense of belief. They described this era as the post-truth era. Much of our beliefs have been largely discredited and diminished. The traditional institutions do not have the credibility that they used to have. When one loses a sense of belief, they become vulnerable to the slightest suggestion that becomes the thing that one subscribes to, especially in the era of social media. We are so vulnerable to suggestions, and I think we tend to equate belief with religion for the longest time. In my view, it's not about religion at all—it's all about the ultimate motivation and measure of how well you know yourself. If one has an acute sense of self-awareness, you have a more compelling sense of purpose why you exist. You know how to direct your skills and abilities for the things you feel need to be done, need to be responded to as a human being.
"There's a need to recover a sense of belief."
Our country's situation results from a long conditioning by institutions—for example, schools. Their primary function is to provide literacy, competency, skills and a heavy dose of conditioning so that young people become submissive to authority. But they do not teach critical analysis in school—there is no such subject. In other words, our current situation results from something that's engineered. Some would think it's not the case, but if you understand and study power long enough, you'll realize that societies are designed and stratified in a specific way. Societies are meant to preserve the relationship of power the way they are.
That's why for me, the role of Filipino artists is to take on that responsibility of catalyzing a heightened collective awareness because they are in the best position to do that. Most artists do not follow a routine or a nine-to-five schedule, which means they have more freedom and flexibility to move to places and develop a multi-perspective view of life. That freedom of mobility also enables one to have a broader grasp of the whole phenomenon of societal living. And once they become aware of that, it becomes a responsibility. They will realize that it's telling them something, and they have to tell that story. They cannot use it simply as an instrument to serve their personal desire because it's a major responsibility. That would be the role of the artist who has come to that realization. But sadly, it does not come to all artists. It takes maturity to exercise one's sensibility in artmaking and connecting with one's context. The real instrument of the artist is their sensibility. You cannot be an artist if you're not a sensitive person.
Nina: Yes, artists need to be more sensitive because they are given more opportunities and freedom to experience and see what other people are going through.
BARE NECESSITIES by Nina Garibay
Alee: Fight the overwhelming force that numbs you. We see everything happening online through gadgets and social media, and it's numbing to the point that you can't feel anymore. We're always seeing and thinking, but we forget to be present and breathe. Always take time to feel.
"Fight the overwhelming force that numbs you."
For younger artists, open yourself. Be vulnerable and seek deeper self-awareness because you won't have a deeper understanding of others without it. In terms of vulnerability, we sometimes tend to protect ourselves from anything that will hurt our ego, hindering us from maturing. It's not conducive to understanding ourselves, others, and our role in our environment.
Our way of life shouldn’t always be centered around joining the hustle as society portrays it to be. The Garibays’ ethos and dedication to cultivating an alternative culture that does not abandon the self show that through awareness, honesty, and intent to respond to the needs of others, we can be better at living our own truths.
Want to learn and join Linangan Art Residency? Read more about the program by clicking here!
It Takes a Village is Looking for Juan's response in bringing a deeper appreciation for art and literature to the public by getting to know the artists and writers behind our books and merchandise, uncovering their stories and experiences in creating each work. As parents and children get to know the faces and stories behind each title, we hope that they'll find a renewed love for books, empowering a generation that reads.
Peruse below to purchase the books and art merch that feature the works of the Garibays. A part of your every purchase goes to book donations to children from underprivileged communities in support of CANVAS' One Million Books for One Million Filipino Children Campaign.