Green Papaya Art Project: Plan BRingo Bunoan, Researcher for the Philippines
One of the last surviving alternative artist-run spaces in Manila, Green Papaya, has gone through several moves and upheavals since its opening ten years ago...
Founded by artists Norberto Roldan and Donna Miranda in 2000, Green Papaya was first located in a condominium building in a quiet village near the University of the Philippines (UP) in Quezon City. Bobi Valenzuela, who formerly worked with Hiraya Gallery, was their first curator and brought with him Riel Hilario as their in-house writer. Roldan and Valenzuela worked together for a long time with Hiraya and the Black Artists of Asia, a group of Filipino artists from Bacolod to which Roldan belonged. It is well known that Valenzuela was biased towards art that represented social realities, thus their inaugural exhibition, ‘The Umbrella Country’, showcased five big names in Philippine social realism: Nunelucio Alvarado, Santiago Bose, Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Charlie Co, and Brenda Fajardo. Part of the gallery’s mission was also to provide a venue for emerging young artists so, alongside the well known artists, they also represented new talent such as Maria Taniguchi, Geraldine Javier, Kiko Escora, and Katti Sta Ana.
The programme Valenzuela designed for Green Papaya was not that dissimilar from that of Hiraya. Roldan, however, wanted something fresh and different from the tired social realist scheme. A rift between them began when Roldan invited conceptual artist, curator and UP Fine Arts professor Roberto Chabet to curate an exhibition of works by Gerry Tan’s students at Green Papaya. The exhibition, ‘Two for the Road’, which included works by Patty Eustaquio, Mm Yu, Lea Lim and Poklong Anading, exemplified to Roldan and Miranda the kind of art they wanted to support and exhibit. Roldan and Valenzuela, realizing that they could not reconcile their curatorial differences, parted ways and Valenzuela left Green Papaya after Bose’s exhibition in 2001.
In 2002, Green Papaya moved into a converted two-car garage, still on the same street in Teachers Village. Roldan, who also worked as a graphic designer, was joined by Manny Chaves, a colleague from the design industry. Apart from exhibitions, they also ran a small bar and subsidized gallery operations with their own income from design projects. Donna Miranda, a dancer and choreographer, and Roldan’s partner, also became more involved and introduced performance-based projects into the programme. Veering away from the original social realist agenda set by Valenzuela, Green Papaya opened up to a wider aesthetic, showing work by both established and young artists of various persuasions. They mounted regular exhibitions including notable ones such as Lani Maestro’s ‘I am you’, Louie Cordero’s ‘Torts and Damages’ and the group exhibition that travelled to Australia, ‘Pleasure and Pain’, including work by Nona Garcia, Wire Tuazon, Jose Legaspi, and Robert Nery. They also hosted international exchange programmes and visiting artists, such as Asialink artists Nery and Cath Bowdler.
At a time when other artist-run spaces such as Surrounded By Water and Big Sky Mind were struggling to hold on to their operations, Green Papaya managed to stay afloat. Chaves has long since moved on and Roldan and Miranda ran Green Papaya by themselves. They also became parents to a little boy named Joaquin in 2003 and lived in an apartment just behind the gallery. In true DIY-family style, Roldan installed the shows and designed the invites while Miranda wrote the texts and cooked for the openings, and Joaquin played with the artists.
Green Papaya forged on with their exhibition programmes and residency projects, including Manuel Ocampo and Argie Bandoy’s collaboration ‘Problems with Style’, Asialink artist David Griggs, and the Galleon Trade, which brought Fil-Am artists from the Bay area to Manila’s shores; with the support of the Prince Claus Fund they also published Papaya, a magazine devoted to Philippine contemporary art; every Wednesday night for two years they toasted to ‘Its Wednesday, I’m In Love’, an open platform residency programme funded by Arts Network Asia, in which Angelo V. Suarez, Diego Maranan, Mark Salvatus, Andrea Teran, Martha Atienza and Jed Escueta participated.
After six years, Green Papaya relocated again in 2008 to a different space in Quezon City, this time to a modest 1940s two-level apartment in Kamuning, a sharp contrast to the warehouse galleries that opened at the same time on Pasong Tamo in Makati. Roldan and his family also moved home, not far from the gallery and Joaquin’s school. By this time, Green Papaya’s identity as an alternative platform for emerging discourses on contemporary art and cross media was quite established. They re-opened with ‘0%’, a group exhibition that rounded up many of the most remarkable emerging and young artists in Manila today, such as Jayson Oliveria, Lena Cobangbang and Lara Delos Reyes. They also launched ‘Serial Killers'; envisaged as an annual exhibition that probes into the idea of seriality in contemporary art, it became a countdown, of sorts, to the closing of another episode in Green Papaya’s and Roldan’s life. Roldan and Miranda separated and the second edition of ‘Serial Killers’, held last December 2009, was Green Papaya’s final exhibition. For now.
When I saw Roldan last January, he was busy renovating Green Papaya. On 12th February 2010 he will re-open Green Papaya with a private housewarming. Roldan intends to continue with their residencies and other projects, but will no longer maintain a regular exhibition programme. The exhibition area downstairs will now be converted into a small shop and bar that will be open three days a week. Upstairs are their private quarters with a studio and a bedroom for Roldan and Joaquin. The deck, where many of us used to hang out for drinks, will now be Joaquin’s play area; after giving up their home they once shared with Miranda, Roldan wanted to make sure they could transfer Joaquin’s playhouse.
In a country like the Philippines, with its dysfunctional institutional support system for the arts and the ever-growing dominance of a largely speculative and unguided art market, artist-run spaces are critical areas that need to be given due consideration. As a mediator between institutions, commercial galleries and the community, artist-run spaces provide a platform for artists to create and develop projects outside the usual limitations and expectations of galleries and other spaces. They are spaces where artists can meet, share ideas and find ways to work together. For many young artists, their entry point to the art scene is through artist-run spaces, and for more established artists, these spaces allow them to engage in experimental or exploratory works that may be considered too risky for other galleries, but should be shown nonetheless. But, more importantly, artist-run spaces give freedom and control to the artists to decide what they can do, and how to go about doing it.
But, the question remains, how to keep on doing? Art and life is a potent mix, and can sometimes leave you with a bad hangover. Balance and long-term sustainability are key issues for most of the artists behind these spaces; artists get tired, break up, go bankrupt, become disillusioned, or shift their gears elsewhere. Without a common space, communities unravel; people come and go simply because there is no one place for them to stay. While it may take one individual to come up with a plan, collective effort is sometimes needed to see it through. Fractured as we are, it is important that we all claim our stake to ensure that spaces that nurture the community are nurtured as well.