Artist Mars Bugaoan: “Art Demands Authenticity”

CCP Thirteen Artists awardee Mars Bugaoan encourages artists to find their creative identities and believe in all of art’s possibilities

Introduction Patrick Kasingsing and Gabrielle de la Cruz
Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Mars Bugaoan


The year that was
Merriam-Webster’s “gaslighting,” Messi’s ‘crowning’ at the FIFA World Cup, the rise (and imminent fall?) of Musk-era Twitter, the monumental departures of Queen E and Pélé, and the continuing turbulence in Ukraine and Iran… 2022 sure was a memorable ride, for better or worse. 

On local shores, 2022 hosted a significant election, one whose outcome is still the subject of myriad Facebook groups, heated debates, and countless memes. It also broke records for dollar-to-peso exchange rates and the price of the humble onion, and paved the way for the return of concerts, exhibits, and other public gatherings (along with the pre-pandemic traffic situation, unfortunately). 

YES 2023
It is in the spirit of tenacious optimism that we at Kanto look back at 2022, parsing through the past year’s opportunities and challenges to find lessons and insights that can help arm us for the year ahead. 

Welcome to Kanto’s first Year End Special or YES 2023—a collection of conversations with creative professionals who help us unpack a year’s worth of lessons and insights, along with their forecasts and wishlists for the year ahead.

A conversation with artist Mars Bugaoan
We now step into the world of art with Filipino artist Mars Bugaoan, who looks back at his artistic journey in 2022 while sharing some of his observations and ambitions for the Philippine art scene in 2023. He was initially known as a printmaker, whose works were characterized by monotype prints and unconventional themes. Mars Bugaoan is among the awardees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 2021 Thirteen Artists Awards. For the accolade’s accompanying exhibition, Bugaoan created Still Life, an immersive installation that made use of plastic, found objects, and a digital video to mimic the emotion of stepping into a particular moment in time.

Good day, Mars! How would you describe your 2022?

Hello, Gabbie. First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to this e-interview and for giving me the chance to introduce myself through Kanto

I was on a bus ride earlier. I read your questions and listed down some keywords and phrases while on the road. I found it comforting to do so as I was heading back to Manila. Nobody on the bus knew me and they had no idea about what I am writing. I am also not “Mars Bugaoan, the artist,” I was just one of the passengers who wanted to get to Manila safely. 

I would say my 2022 was good. It was a combination of creating projects for exhibitions, pursuing some personal projects, and accomplishing a few commissioned works. The first six months of the past year were quite busy, while the last few months were about slowing down, creating that buffer for upcoming projects and life plans. 

The highlight of 2022 was finally getting a chance to return to my hometown Luna, Isabela after four years. There are many good spots to eat pancit in my province. If I post a photo of pancit on social media, it means I am happily home. 

Glad to hear! You say the first half of 2022 was filled with artistic endeavors. What were your observations of the Philippine art scene in the past year? 

The Philippine art scene is surviving and thriving. Events have become more consistent and institutions are slowly getting back to face-to-face programming. The ease of restrictions has also led to more shows, exhibitions, talks, and events that are open to the public. 

During the onslaught of the pandemic, many art events were postponed or even canceled. A lot of exhibitions and events were simply held online. 

One of 2022’s pivotal art events was the awarding of the 2021 CCP Thirteen Artists, where you were among the awardees. What has changed since this milestone?

I’ve heard a lot of “This is Mars, he is a CCP Thirteen Artists awardee” since then. However, I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. After the awarding, I had to prepare for an upcoming solo show and it was already time for the national elections here in the Philippines. 

But I wouldn’t deny that I smile every now and then whenever I remember this achievement. I never imagined that this would happen to me. Back in 2012, a friend and I watched Mario O’Hara’s “Stageshow” musical play by Tanghalang Pilipino, which was happening simultaneously with the 13 Artists awarding ceremony. We were able to witness a few parts of the awarding and visit the exhibition after the show. I was only dreaming of becoming an artist back then and I had no idea where to start. I never imagined that 10 years later, I would become one of CCP’s Thirteen Artists awardees. 

Would you say consider Still Life, your contribution to the Thirteen Artists Award show, as your most memorable piece this year? 

There are two artworks that really left a mark on me this year. The first one is Still Life, my Thirteen Artists Awards exhibition work. Looking at it as a process, the artwork had gone through so many stages—from proposal to production period, to its return after the exhibit. 

In Still Life, I was able to create an environment wherein the audience becomes a part of the artwork once they step in. It is also in this piece’s different elements that I was able to see and showcase myself as an observer, collector, and creator. 

The second piece is a portrait that I made for my father, which was a standout piece in my 2022 solo show at Art Cube. I am humbled and grateful that I was able to share this with the world. The artwork is made of collected blister packs of my father’s maintenance medicines since 2017. 

Let’s now talk about the Philippine art industry as a whole. Are there any personalities, happenings, or developments that stood out for you in the past year?

I’ve been to plenty of art shows and events in 2022. One of the shows that really struck me was Imelda Cajipe Endaya’s retrospective show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I find her love for life and her craft inspiring. 

Angela Silva also initiated and developed “Limbag Kamay”, which is a program for the printmaking community. This program which includes art sales, exhibitions, workshops, and talks started in 2021 and continued in 2022. It is wonderful to see how printmaking is growing as a medium and how it is reaching more and more artists and audiences. 

What developments in the realm of art in 2022 did you like or dislike?

Online viewings became a thing during the pandemic. I find that these are beneficial, especially for those who do not have access to or time to go to the actual exhibitions. However, I personally find that seeing artwork up close is still a different experience. 

Based on experience, I would say that teaching art virtually is quite challenging. When I hosted an online printmaking workshop in 2021, the engagement with the participants was entirely different. I’m happy that I was able to facilitate a face-to-face workshop for the Thirteen Artists Awards public program in 2022. 

Would you consider the rushed transition to virtual platforms as art’s biggest challenge in 2022? 

I think the biggest challenge to the art industry at the moment is to remain sustainable and relevant. This isn’t exactly a new challenge for artists, curators, writers, collectors, and the entire art community. We always have to reflect if anything needs to be changed and improved. Artists face different situations depending on where they are coming from and what they are currently in need of. Having conversations is vital to make sure that every member of the art community is supported.

What was one lesson learned from 2022 that has made an impact on you as an artist?

Following trends is so easy. Do what you want to do. That’s what’s more important. Finding your authenticity may be a lot harder but that’s how you’ll grow in your craft and harness your capabilities. 

What about personal lessons? What realizations did the past year bring? 

SLOW DOWN. It sounds so easy but it’s extremely difficult to apply it in real life. I’m trying my best to work on it. 

Random walks became a way for me to reflect and recharge when I got home. I would dedicate one to two hours of my day to this and just take a few pictures along the way. 

Discovered new hobbies or unlocked skills? 

I was able to create spicy vinegar using harvested chili peppers from my father’s vegetable garden. I gift this to some of my friends. I found that there is joy in harvesting and knowing that you are taking part in food production. 

2022 was a productive and meaningful year for you indeed.  What are you most looking forward to in 2023? 

I’m 34 years old. Realistically, I can only plan projects for the next four months of 2023. I believe that is easier and less overwhelming. I have two solo exhibitions opening in March and April respectively. I’ll start with those. 

Regarding exploration, I want to try to go back to making more prints. I was only able to create one print in the past year, a gel plate print from a workshop facilitated by Angela Silva at Fundacion Sanso last August. The use of plastic, found objects, and videos in my works will be continued and further explores as well. 

What are your hopes and dreams for Philippine art as this new year unfolds? 

I hope everyone realizes that the world is big and the possibilities are endless. I also hope that there will be less gatekeeping and fewer gatekeepers in the art industry. 

Don’t give up and keep doing what you love. The ultimate goal is to simply create good art and live a good life. •

Gabrielle de la Cruz started writing about architecture and design in 2019. She previously wrote for BluPrint magazine and was trained under the leadership of then editor-in-chief Judith Torres and previous creative director Patrick Kasingsing. Read more of her work here and follow her on Instagram @gabbie.delacruz.

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