Monday, April 27, 2020

THE HALO-HALO REVIEW'S Mangozine: Issue 9

In addition to aggregating reviews from the internet, THE HALO-HALO REVIEW presents The Mangozine which features new reviews and serves as the online publisher for reviews and other engagements (e.g. book introductions) published in print but not yet available within the internet.  Other features, including author interviews and reader testimonials, also will be presented. The following presents a Table of Contents for Issue 9 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

(April 2020)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the ninth issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-PilipinZ literature and art and authors/artists through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers, artists, and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings. 

The Mangozine's Review Copy information is HERE; you are encouraged to fatten up the list as well as pick some to review! Submission deadline for the tenth issue has been set at Nov. 15, 2020 (though I will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

Go HERE to continue the Editor's Note.


Engaged by Eileen Tabios

The Patron Saint of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Stripes Publishing Limited, 2019) (1)
Engaged by Von Torres 

The Patron Saint of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Stripes Publishing Limited, 2019) (2)
Reviewed by Noelle Q. de Jesus

"New Moon"--Poem by Luisa A. Igloria and Dance by Joel Casanova (ODU MFA program's Writers in Community outreach for April NaPoMo and BeatHunter Dance Program, 2020)
Engaged by Eileen Tabios

Reviewed (w/ brief interview) by Maileen Hamto

The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, edited by Sharon Louden; this review focuses on Norberto Roldan and Stephanie Syjuco (Intellect Books / University of Chicago Press, 2017)
Engaged by Eileen Tabios
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
Engaged by Mylene Leng Leng

The Kissing by Merlinda Bobis
 (Aunt Lute Press, San Francisco, 2001)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (Penguin Random House, 2019)
Engaged by Jack Villanueva

A TRANSPACIFIC POETICS, edited by Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu, featuring Filipino writers Barbara Jane Reyes, Sean Labrador Y Manzano and Eileen R. Tabios (Litmus Press, Brooklyn, 2017)
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

GLIMPSES: A Poetic Memoir by Leny Mendoza Strobel (Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2019)
Reviewed by Christopher Bowers 

Cursed and Other Stories by Noelle Q. de Jesus (Penguin Random House Southeast Asia, 2019)
Engaged by Eileen Tabios

Old and New Poems by Allan Justo Pastrana (2020); Shifting Sands by Irah Borinaga (Giraffe Books, 1997); and PASSAGES: Selected Travel Essays by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (USTPH, 2008)
Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan

Trill & Mordent by Luisa A. Igloria (WordTech Editions, 2005)
Engaged by Christine Fojas

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater


Reine Arcacha Melvin / The Betrayed: A Novel
Jen Soriano / Making the Tongue Dry
Leny Mendoza Strobel / GLIMPSES: A Poetic Memoir
Marianne Chan / All Heathens
Noelle Q. de Jesus / Cursed and Other Stories

Go HERE to read:

*     Eileen Tabios on Angela Manalang Gloria
*     Sean Labrador y Manzano on Ron Loewinsohn
*     Beverly Parayno on Lisa Melnick
*     Jonel Abellanosa on Ralph Semino Galan
*     Eileen Tabios on Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
*     Sarah de Mesa on Noelle Q. De Jesus
*     Eileen Tabios on Eunice Barbara C. Novio
*     Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier on Cecilia Brainard
*     Eileen Tabios on Marianne Chan


From Books: Introductions, Prefaces, Forewords, Afterwords and Author's Notes

Eileen Tabios presents Foreword to Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir by Leny Mendoza Strobel (Paloma Press, 2019)

Saturday, April 25, 2020



"New Moon" by Luisa A. Igloria, Danced by Joel Casanova
(ODU MFA program's Writers in Community outreach for April NaPoMo and BeatHunter Dance Program, 2020)

This project is available online at YOUTUBE.

I've been blessed to have the opportunity to read poems and have that reading be the "music" by which contemporary dancers performed. These all were live readings/performances. Through no fault of the dancers -- who were all brilliant in my non-biased opinion -- the performances disappointed me in that I felt the poems could not get sufficient attention. It may have been that the visuals of the dance overcame the words in the poem struggling to not just be heard but be comprehended. But my experience make me all the more appreciative of the joint poetry-reading/dance collaboration between Luisa A. Igloria and Joel Casanova.


I found Igloria's and Casanova's project very effective--I believe it has to do with the split screen presentation such that one can see the dance but also focus on Igloria's reading of the poem. That is, one can hear and comprehend the poem without dilution from the compelling dance--an effect I'm not sure I mustered with the live performances. It certainly helps, too, that a presentation like this allows for repeat viewings so that one can go over details one might have missed live. There must be a reason, after all, why a work should utilize the online format besides that we're in pandemic lockdown.

Also, was there a "set designer" to this piece? Because I also felt the palate -- the muted colors and matching black outfits -- served to emphasize dance and poem in a strengthening way. Relatedly, I even thought that if that's their natural hair colors, I'm glad they matched :)  Plus, I adore the blackboard or whiteboard with marker on the wall behind the dancer--it seems fitting for emphasizing the written word as the source for music.

So while this performance raised my uncomfortable memory of how/when I once trafficked with contemporary dance, I'm also grateful for the beauty of this performance ... and teaching me how one can approach such a collaboration again in the future. Of course, Igloria's poem and Casanova's art individually deserve appreciation.

Kudos to Luisa A. Igloria and Joel Casanova!


Joel Casanova also dances well to a poem "Poem in Status Updates from My Imaginary Facebook Account" by Gabriela Igloria HERE. ODU's Writers in Community series has been coordinated by MFA graduate student Lili Lhouzi Nizankiewicz.


Eileen R. Tabios has released about 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. Most recently, she released a short story collection,PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora and a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences, which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into ten languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at

Thursday, April 16, 2020



PLAY FOR TIME by Paula Mendoza 
(Gaudy Boy, 2020)

Four poems into the book, I arrogantly imagine I know what Paula Mendoza did to create the poems in her lush and charismatic debut, PLAY FOR TIME. She loosened all of the words from the pages of the fattest English dictionary that she could find, tossed the words up in the air, and let the words fall around her in a disorganized heap.  She then plucked-to-choose and combined words at random. “I took it apart. // When it was whole, / it wasn’t right,” she writes in (for my context) the slyly-titled “Engineer.” Here’s an example of the results from “Spell”:

“chortle your knockwurst and slut it for the creamdom”

I chose that line for displaying how—and despite any truth in what I fictionalized as her strategy—the result becomes whole through music. It also displays one of her strengths: slightly adjusting words so that they seem to be averted presentations of other words, which is to say, allusions to something not so easy to discern, e.g., for me to read “creamdom” is to be reminded of “kingdom” and it is a harsh truth throughout human history that many have had to slut it for kingdoms….

This is also to say—and I notice this apt and admirable tendency in many poets of color—the poem doesn’t just rely on musical abstraction: We have things to say! “Dehelixing Adora: At the Tip of His Tongue,” for instance, can be interpreted to touch on misogyny (I could do a close read but just note the title already), “Left By the Ship” can touch on the impossibility of certain longings in the diaspora, and so on. 

What makes this poetry stellar is how Mendoza’s rigorous diction leads to fresh ways of saying those things-said-before-but-not-often-heard, and this is even before she disrupts English with non-English. In many poems, phrases contain hauntings of how things used to be said: “I’m goring for the kill” (from the poem with its scalpel-honed title, “My Demon is Sad All It Can Be Is Complicit”) could be “I’m going (in) for the kill” but Mendoza’s phrasing is less normative and slack, thus pause-inducing for the reader to consider what the poem is presenting; “goring,” obviously, is also more powerful and energetic than “going” and poetry’s shoulds, should they exist, certainly should include said power and energy. Here’s “Lucy” which I feature below as a good example of Mendoza’s intriguing and bracing word choices:
 [click on images to enlarge]

In addition to subverting the to-be-expected diction, Mendoza also presents parallel universes (or alternative meanings) simmering between her lines. To paraphrase one of her poems’ titles, it’s as if the poems also are “scene rewrites” attendant with second-guessing and perspectival mental shifts: 

As well, the lushness of the language is a success.  It makes me consider how she understood language’s rules before she tinkered with them … so that she ended up never losing sight of Beauty which, like Poetry, somehow always fends off others’ subversions. These poems are not just gems—they’re gorgeous. This example might be (one of her) ars poetica:

Mendoza’s collection ends with the poem “Go-To” which concludes with

                                    We are
headed towards, the last word
the first, again. Again

such that I, the reviewer, return, too, to the first words of this review. Note the title: Play For Time. I said at the top of this review, “She loosened all of the words from the pages of the fattest English dictionary that she could find, tossed the words up in the air, and let the words fall around her in a disorganized heap.  She then plucked-to-choose and combined words at random”—that’s “play.” But on a deeper level, in Filipino (and other) indigenous cultures, time can collapse into a moment without borders, where the past and future do not exist as all is present: thus, a sentence does not (linearly) unfold but is simply one word that is all words. In such indigenous time, all is interconnected not just across all beings but across all of time. In a novel I’ve recently finished, I call this concept “Kapwa-time” as Kapwa is a Filipino indigenous trait that shares connections among all. It seems to me that Mendoza looked at language and her subjectivity as a Filipina-Canadian who considers herself an “Austinite” and considered (as she put it in “Scene Rewrite”)

Is the language doing it for you?

Entonces (yes, the indigenous Word encompasses all language, thus the insertion of non-English in an English review), Mendoza did not just structure a play (as in a theater production). She also made a verb-bid to, literally, play for time that among other things erases/dilutes diasporic longing. Indubitably and ineffably, the result is Poetry.


Eileen R. Tabios has released about 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. Most recently, she released a short story collection,PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora and a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences, which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into ten languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at

Wednesday, April 15, 2020



Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
(Stripes Publishing Limited, 2019)

Randy Ribay’s book, Patron Saints Of Nothing is immensely readable, and has a likeable, sympathetic protagonist. In fact, Jay is the appropriate, perfectly normal “every teen” to take Ribay's readers through what’s been going on in the Philippines. The horrific “normal” state that began when Duterte was elected in 2016 and his brutal flagship policy, the Drug War is the backdrop to this family drama. However, in Ribay's story, I find the political competes with the personal. What causes Jay to postpone his freshman year of college and travel back to Manila with a plan to find out what happened to his cousin, Jun, who had stopped writing him all of a sudden because he had disappeared? The relationship, presented simply as a given, is for me, a heavy-handed "tell" instead of an organic "show". When Jay stays with his cousin’s family who is shockingly silent, and almost unbelievably harsh regarding Jun, their redemption in the end, strikes me as unearned.

The novel stays within its first -person point of view in its 366 pages, which may feel a little constricting for readers who are accustomed in this length of a book to also encounter different perspectives. Perhaps this is more a function of the book’s targeted audience than anything else, but I was one of those readers that did feel the limitations of that sole point-of-view. That said, Ribay does an admirable job of describing the Pinoy family dynamics heavily laced with religion that is often the default makeup of the Filipino lifestyle, seen from still fairly foreign, if Filipino-American eyes. The relationship between the two cousins is pounded into the reader as to almost render it contrived, not quite organic—played out one-sidedly in letters from Jun to Jay. Perhaps this plays into why the political stole conflict from the personal, when these two young men, these Patron Saints of Nothing, might have been allowed to foster a much stronger bond played out on the actual pages.

All said, cards on the table, I am not PSN’s target reader, and Ribay should be proud of what he’s done here, being a Dante to young readers, Fil-AM or Not, taking them through Duterte’s hell in the city and showing how things can simultaneously be true, and not true. 
More mature readers may see the climax coming and find it slightly dissatisfying even though it’s true enough. Nevertheless, it’s a good book, not without flaws that most likely, its target readers will overlook. 

I find Ribay best in his descriptions of the country, the simple family life and the very real, relateable and spirited Tita Chato and Tita Ines who take Jay in with more natural clan love than any of the other Filipino relatives, indeed than even Jay’s own parents, and that in itself has its own truthful poignance. 

“The impossibly dense housing of the city and its surrounding suburbs has given way to lush, green countryside. Squared plots of rice paddies  lined with palm trees and nipa huts slide past. Mountainous jungles loom in the horizon. I’m just as struck as the last time I was here by the contrast between the smoggy, overpopulated cities with their garbage-choked waterways and the rural provinces where farmers wearing wide-brimmed salakot still plow fields with carabao. It feels like two different worlds.”

I am happy for all the accolades the book has earned, and wish Randy Ribay more success as his career continues to take flight. Patron Saints of Nothing unintentionally simplifies things the way many books in the YA genre do, still, it deserves pride of place on the shelves of every Fil-Am teen in America, for its story, but also, for its warnings. It is the first piece of literature to take up the darkness of these Duterte years, and that is truly something.


Noelle Q. de Jesus is the author of two short fiction collections, Cursed and Other Stories (Penguin Random House SEA 2019) and Blood Collected Stories (Ethos Books Singapore 2015, Winner of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Award for the Short Story). She lives with her husband in Singapore.



Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
(Stripes Publishing Limited, 2019)

Dear Reader,

The night I picked up Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing, I had partially read his speech “Critical Lit Theory as Preparation for the World” given at the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE) Workshop in November 2019. In this speech, Ribay discussed using critical literary theory as a method to “contextualize the reason we study stories and literature” and highlighted that feminism, postcolonialism, and Marxism were foundational to present counternarratives. I stopped reading his speech because elements of the book were being revealed, so I picked up my copy of the book and started reading.

That first night, I read the first 28 or so pages. Within those pages, I took note of the coverage and depth that Ribay was already mentioning through the story’s main character, Jay. My notes included the following:
·      Like any high schooler
·      Filipinx masculinity
·      LGBTQ brother
·      Perceived education – university
·      Real education – learning about Philippine politics and uncovering more about Jun’s death
·      Coming of age – becoming of identity
·      Stereotypes and narrative coerced upon us (hegemony) to conform and survive in America
·      Learning to navigate mental health and feelings
·      The letter writing – yellow legal pads, smell of ink
o   Emotional & physical distance between Filipino & Filipino American cousins - diaspora
·      Introduction & privilege & crime of drugs

Considering that this book was written toward teenagers and that these themes and concepts were within the opening pages and chapters, Ribay’s willingness to address the vast factors that impact Filipina/o/x American identity shows a courage to be bold in his work and unafraid to address historically stigmatized topics in the Filipino and FilAm community.

While Ribay took a look at his work through critical literary theory at his November 2019 talk, I would like to offer a new lens of viewing the book through an Ethnic Studies framework. At Dr. Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales’ TFCU Talks presentation, “Ethnic Studies: Saving Lives, Sacred Spaces, and Solidarity,” she shared a quote from the late Dr. Dawn Mabalon that said Ethnic Studies helps us answer three questions:
1.     Who am I?
2.     What is the story of my family and community?
3.     What can I do to make positive change and bring social justice to my community and the world?

In Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing, Jay goes on his own Ethnic Studies journey as his world is turned upside down when his closest cousin, Jun, who lives in the Philippines, is murdered during President Duterte’s war on drugs. As Jay questions his purpose and how he is living in the world as a privileged and no worries teenager, he begins to ask his family members questions to learn more about their history, and he hopes to make a positive and hopeful change at different moments while he is in the Philippines.

While Jay’s point of view is the central focus of the novel, the women around Jay keep him anchored throughout the book. In the Philippines, Angel, Jun’s youngest sister, give subtle hints to Jay to help him navigate around the home without hopefully getting caught. Grace, Jun’s eldest sister, becomes an ally in Jay’s quest to learn more about what happened to his cousin and her brother. Mia, a Filipina he meets through Grace, also allies with Jay to provide guidance and sociopolitical context in understanding the circumstances of Jun’s death. Jay’s interactions and stay with Tita Chato and Tita Ines acts as a reprieve from the seriousness he continually encounters on his journey of learning more about Jun’s life outside of his cousin’s letters to him. One of my favorite moments from the book is a karaoke session with his Titas and reminded me of the singing talents one has when they’re asked to sing karaoke in the Philippines. Ribay creates a story where the intense mystery of a cousin’s death and the seriousness of the war on drugs in the Philippines is also paralleled with moments of joy, laughter, and being present in all the dark and light moments.

One aspect of the book that was subtle and hinted at, but not apparent, was the access Jay and his family members have to socioeconomic privileges. From having several technological devices such as video games, a cell phone, and a computer available at home in Michigan to Jay’s dad easily being able to buy a last minute ticket for his son to the Philippines to having access and prepaid load on a SIM card for his cell phone to have connection in the Philippines to Tomas, the driver, and MarĂ­a, the maid, at Tito Maning’s house, the Reguero Family in the United States and the Philippines has money. Ribay contrasts the Reguero Family’s privilege by describing the conditions of the working class and low-income neighborhoods and houses in the Philippines. While this was not at the forefront of Jay’s journey, the privilege and access that Jay has at his disposal to learn more about his cousin’s death and family history also comes at a financial cost that he does not have to work or struggle for.

There’s something about letters going on in Filipina/o/x American Literature. While the earliest history of including letters in FilAm Lit can be traced back to the seminal work of Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, there seems to be an emergence of the form and approach of letter writing. From E.J. R. David’s We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet and Barbara Jane Reyes’ Letter to a Young Brown Girl, Ribay joins these scholars and writers and uses letter writing as a way to bridge the narratives and worlds of Filipina/o/x Americans. I do wonder though: why does Ribay choose letter writing as a form of communication between the cousins? How does this communication with “old school” ways of documenting our lives enrichen the narrative and the mystery of Jun’s death? I’m not quite sure the answers to those questions, but the way Ribay places the letters between Jay and Jun throughout the book gives the reader a chance to slow down and understand the cousins’ history and relationship inside and outside of their correspondence. The value in the letters, the words of the deceased, and holding onto something that was handwritten from someone you love holds a different kind of sentiment, emotional power, and history to those closest to us.

Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing is a chance for Jay to return home and find home. At different points throughout the novel, Jay adds another layer of understanding who he is and who he wants to become. By trying to find out what happened to his cousin, Jay also gets to build an identity that is rooted in and informed by family history, struggle, and experience.


Von Torres is a full-time and recently tenured professor in the English and Reading Department at Clovis Community College in Fresno, California. He became a student of poetry at Fresno City College and transferred to San Francisco State University where he earned his B.A. and M.A. in English: Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in TAYO Literary Magazine and VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA: A Storm of Filipino Poets. He has also self-published two chapbooks: HELLO my name is and "F" Sounds.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020



The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, edited by Sharon Louden; this review focuses on Norberto Roldan and Stephanie Syjuco
(Intellect Books / University of Chicago Press, 2017)

Editor Sharon Louden accomplished something wonderful with The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining A Creative Life, a collection of essays by 40 visual artists, including the Filipino artists Norberto Roldan (co-founder of Green Papaya Art Projects), Stephanie Syjuco (whose art encompasses public participation and performances) and with a reference to Isabel Manalo (founder of The Studio Visit, a blog where she features the artists she knows or are interested in meeting). To quote from the book description:

…the book describes how artists extend their practices outside their studios. All of these contributors have impactful, artistic activities as change agents in their communities. Although there is a misconception that artists are invisible and hidden, the truth is that they furnish measurable and innovative outcomes at the front lines of education, the nonprofit sector, and corporate environments. Their first-hand stories show the general public how contemporary artists of the 21st century add to creative economies through their out-of-the-box thinking while also generously contributing to the well-being of others.”

Presented are lives of non-solipsistic artists, artists whose engagements and collaborations with others are an integral part of their art-making. I knew what the book was about before beginning to read it. But it was only after reading the entire book that I realized just how much it benefited from the autobiographical perspective taken on by the essays—these artists wrote essays after they’ve lived through the art-making, thus eliding premature conclusions about their ways of life and art. Each conclusion or point-of-view is hard-earned. 

Indeed, my biggest takeaway from reading the book is just how HARD it is to live the lives that these artists have lived. Of course, I’d anticipated that their lives as artists—especially without trust funds or subsidies from others like wealthier parents—would be difficult. But that assumption is too general. There is, as I gleaned from these essays, a particular difficulty or challenge in having to rely on others and elements out of one’s control; these artists had to rely on public interest, others’ participations/collaborations, overcoming certain bureaucracies, etc. Fortunately, the featured artists effectively managed their constraints to create art and a life in art, and what a pleasure to witness their mental acuity as they, indeed, became true artists with “out-of-the-box thinking.” It’s all organic, of course—many effective/successful artists inherently must think out-of-the-box, but these artists do it with the extra difficulty of doing something that results in them becoming “change agents in their communities.” The featured artists don’t only make their own works but create opportunities for other artists—they expand the scope of or help manage existing art organizations, create educational opportunities for artists or non-artist community members, among other acts of activism.

As an aside, the book’s approach made me wonder about those projects that fail to get off the ground because of elements outside of the artist’s control. I’ve always been interested in work that their artists considered “failures” (I once tried to curate such a show but failed-haha) and I speculate it’d be interesting to present how such and such public element or other matters not under the artist’s control failed to support a project. But I digress…

The book is organized and produced well with illustrations. In fact, looking at the artworks and then reading the autobiographical texts reminds how complicated and layered the art-making process can be—much of the thought and inspirations to the featured artworks do not offer a neat cause-and-effect, which is apt as art generally does not operate neatly or linearly. But a project, therefore, like The Artist as Culture Producer serves its readers well for providing much illumination about a variety of art and their underlying creative processes.

Given The Halo-Halo Review’s focus on Filipino artists, I want to focus my subsequent comments on Norberto Roldan and Stephanie Syjuco. But let me first say that editor Sharon Louden—whose art I’ve actually admired for years before she began editing collections of art essays (this is her second and her first, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists, is also a read I highly recommend) has created a result where the effect of the sum is an extra layer in addition to the significance of each its parts. If I were one of the 40 artists in this book, I’d feel a heck of a lot less lonely as a result of reading how others have managed the difficulty of public-related and public-sensitized art and art lifestyles. But for the artists to have bared their lives as much as they did in these essays, they had to have trusted and respected Louden—a testament to her empathy, among other things. I, as a reader, am grateful Louden was able to elicit these views and to share these admirable lives. 



It’s simply wonderful that, through this book, we’re able to hear directly from Roldan as regards his art career which accomplished the feat of Green Papaya Art Projects, perhaps the oldest artist-run gallery (it’s more than just a gallery but a facilitator) in the Philippines. Founded in 2000, Green Papaya is “the longest running, artist-led space in Metro Manila. The founders wanted to offer a place wherein artists in the Philippines and around the world could support one another in the creation of experimental work, sharing of intellectual ideas over communal meals, and bartering of resources. Researchers, artists, and curators around the world visit the space to ask for advice and consult Green Papaya’s collection of material about its exhibitions, performances, publications, residencies, and collaborations. In addition to extensive documentation about these events, Green Papaya has more than 300 artist-donated works on canvas and paper, photographs, and objects.

The above quote is from a speech offered by Roldan (explaining, too, why Green Papaya will close in 2020) which you can access at Asia Art Archive.

In The Artist as Culture Producer, Roldan begins with how he became an artist—and specifically how he became a political activist, a point of view that most assuredly informed his art-making which includes the founding of Green Papaya with another artist, Donna Miranda. To recap, he began his art practice in the 1980s. While initially hoping to build a career in Manila, he was persuaded by his in-laws after his son was born to settle in Bacolod to manage his wife’s 60-hectare sugar farm that she inherited. There, he found “a totally different world…. It was the country’s sugar bowl, where sugar barons were born and ruled during the golden age of the Philippines’ sugar industry.” He continues:

Inevitably, this affected Roldan’s art practice:

Roldan found his “day job” in the advertising industry, but it was at ABS-CBN which came to be seized by Ferdinand Marcos’ government a day after Marcos declared martial law. It’s no wonder that he would say, “I believe being engaged in a contemporary art practice carries with it some kind of political awareness, as one cannot deal with contemporary issues without dealing with the conflicts attached to them.”

In his art practice, his life with sugar workers and a temporary stay in the seminary (his pre-art period) fostered a fascination with Christian and folk religious rituals and objects:

Today—or at the time of finishing his essay for The Artist as Culture Producer—Roldan says he often asks himself: “Where and how have I pulled together all those precious hours to create art? I did it in between intense cultural and political work, in between rallies, in between teachings, and during the days I did not have to drive to the sugar farm while I was in Negros. In between a regular job and a weekend job… after getting home from ABS-CBN, in between semesters in graduate school, in between projects and gigs in Green Papaya, on weekends, on holidays, and when my children were peacefully tucked into their beds at night…”

It’s inspiring but also exhausting to read his recollections, though perhaps more exhausting for him while his efforts were unfolding. Thankfully, the art surfaced. A life in art was created for himself … and for others, both his peers and those learning about him and Green Papaya an ocean away like myself, and, no doubt, those who in the future will acknowledge him and his activities as part of Philippine art history and history.



What’s also educational about Stephanie Syjuco’s contribution is that it comes from the vantage point of a highly successful artist with more acclaim, awards, publicity (mainstream as well as otherwise), and exhibition exposure than many artists will ever receive. It is, thus, generous of her to bluntly state—and thus create a truly helpful essay—that such success did not prevent her from being broke and in debt—

Syjuco’s state of finances resulted partly from the nature of her artwork:

Syjuco’s first big international break was “COPYSTAND: An Autonomous Manufacturing Zone”:

“COPYSTAND”’s reception helped Syjuco start “believing that I deserved better and pursued better-paying opportunities” which, in turn, helped her “receive…more back in terms of compensation and respect,” including a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship Award. But she also had spent a decade adjuncting at five different programs until she landed a tenure-track assistant professor position at U.C. Berkeley: “There, I teach and develop coursework in social practice sculpture, graduate studies and professional practices, among others. I emigrated with my mother from the Philippines when I was a. young child, and I remember growing up on welfare and being incredibly class-conscious. I know this feeling of economic alienation has influenced my consciousness about economic access and teaching at Berkeley. I actually do think that teaching in a public university is a political act in an era of privatized education and rising tuition costs; in some ways, doing so falls into line with themes that I address in my own artwork—mainly, working with and teaching others how to gain agency and a voice within a larger system of capitalism that seems overpowering or overwhelming.”

She concludes her essay with

“What I’ve learned through the ups and downs of my career is that it’s imperative to advocate for and work towards sustainable models of art-making, for the sake of others moving forward with better knowledge. I lecture often about artist compensation from the standpoint of someone who has experienced the gamut, from precarious individual to well-funded collaborator. I create open-access archives of my grant and exhibition proposals, so that it demystifies the application process….I’d rather foster a sense of cooperative knowledge-sharing as opposed to competition. It creates a healthier art community, and one that doesn’t rely on keeping trade secrets or hiding information from fellow artists. We artists are a creative force, and we do much better when we consider ourselves to be collaborating on the ultimate project: a society and community that values what we produce. And this includes sharing the means to create that success.”

Though I’d followed Syjuco’s art for years, I didn’t know about her background (described above) until I read this book. The knowledge makes me appreciate her work even more as some (many?) of her projects are not didactic in reflecting her immigrant experience; deftly, she incorporates surprise. This is also to say, she’s not created predictable works and/or works limited by preconceptions on what works should look like by immigrant, POC, or even economically-struggling artists. Her works of course are influenced by her life—both experience and thoughtful considerations of such—but in a deeper (and more alchemized) way (you can peruse them at her website

Her essay displays her generosity which, as one thinks about it, was/is a logical impetus for an artist sensitized to public-oriented art. Her past challenges and work history did not lead her to hoard resources but compelled her to both share existing as well as create new resources. It’s what Filipinos call the “Bayanihan” (or community-oriented) spirit and one can easily see how such can only benefit her type of art projects in the future … even as her vision displays a singularity of a unique voice. I—like the book—won’t go much into her other artworks but I want to say that in addition to her concern with community and the public, her sculptures present a point of view that makes one conclude in admiration: only a Stephanie Syjuco could have created these works. As an example, the older “Wirtschafts-werte (Economic Values)” is among my favorite of her works; its concerns are well-considered as they continue on to her most recent projects which you can peruse at her website.

Here's an unexpected (to me as I didn't expect this to come up when I decided to review this book) throwback: I once met one of the dealers representing Stephanie Syjuco. That dealer, at one point, said to me, "I should do more for her" or "I should be doing more for her." That's the point—sure, Syjuco, like all of us, could always use a helping hand. But she knew better than to not make her own opportunities and, generously, expanded and expands that knowledge on behalf of other artists. That knowledge bespeaks the wisdom of a mature conceptual artist whose practice of community activism is both logical and critical.


Eileen R. Tabios has released about 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays (including MY ROMANCE, prose and poetry on the visual arts), and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. Most recently, she released a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator's Aftermath in the Diaspora, and a poetry collection, The Inter(vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019 as well as wrote the catalog essay for INTERWOVEN, a joint retrospective exhibit by Miriam Bloom and Ron Morosan.  Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences, which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into ten languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. More information is available at