Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.






Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pia's Quilt

"Ghanaian Dreams" 
Quilted for Pia Z
by Jojo Sabalvaro Tan
60" x 60"

I made this quilt for my friend's daughter, Pia.  A couple of summers ago, she went to Ghana for a work- study program sponsored by NYU.  She fell in love with the country and its people. But most of all, she fell in love with the colorful and graphic fabrics they used for their clothing and costumes. After her internship,  to her mother's surprise, she came home with suitcases filled with these fabrics. While in Paris, I was privy to a show and tell of these wonderful works of  Ghanaian folk art that Pia lovingly and dare I say, obsessively collected. Each one was special in its own right.  Some were obviously traditional African, others looked like Andy Warhol paintings, worthy of any modern art museum in the world.  I decided that I'd like to make a quilt from one of these fabrics for Pia, if I can get her to part with even a scrap. 

Between the two of us, we chose the fabric featured in the center of the quilt. It has a very graphic turquoise, black and cream design. The fabric had the same design and color value and hue front and back so it is obviously hand dyed and hand printed.   I had to figure out a design that would use the piece of cloth with the least loss of fabric. So I utilized the entire Ghanaian cloth for the center of the quilt without trimming it and found some similarly graphic fabrics for the border to enhance the center. I used another African-influenced print flannel for the backing and bound the entire quilt with a solid black to act as a frame. I hand quilted the entire quilt as guided by the dictates of  the design of the fabrics I used.

While making this quilt, I was so intrigued by this fabric that I did research on Ghanaian fabrics and found out that they were produced using the Dutch wax-resist process influenced by the Javanese batik process and designs. I happen to love Indonesia batiks and ikat woven materials. Later the designs and colors evolved into more African in nature. I read that the patterns and colors often represent specific meaning to the wearer. It can represent fables, proverbs and historical events. The colors can represent age, tribal orientation, or marital status. But I think, sometimes folks use them because they're just pretty and  fun. That's what I would do for sure. I completely understand Pia's fascination. I hope the market for these fabrics remain strong.



At the fabric market in Accra, Ghana
A riot of color  at Ghanaian fabric stall. 


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lamentation of Christ Painting


Painted in memory of the victims of the 2011 Great East Earthquake and Tsunami

Lately, I've switched from painting the Madonna and Child to paintings relating to the death of Jesus Christ. I just completed this watercolor entitled The Lamentation of Christ. a very common subject in Christian art.  The event represents the time after Jesus was crucified, his body was removed from the cross and his friends and family mourned over his body including the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist. Lamentation works are very often included in cycles of the Life of Christ, and also form the subject of many individual works. One specific type of Lamentation depicts only Jesus' mother Mary cradling his body. These are known as Pietà (Italian for "pity"). 

My painting was started in March and while I was painting it the great earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, killing more than 15,000 people. It is one of most powerful earthquakes to have hit Japan and the world in recorded history. Like everyone else, I watched the incident unfold on TV with horror and worry. I truly admired the calm and dignified way the Japanese confronted this unfathomable crisis.


Japanese women lamenting their losses from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami
For some reason, as I was painting this piece, my characters started to look Japanese. I think it was because I was thinking about them and imagining the lamentations of those who have lost members of their family and, least of all, their home and all their worldly possessions. But I know the Japanese people will rise again even stronger from this experience. I continue to pray for this nation and all those affected by disasters brought on by Mother Nature.

From Wikipedea : The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, also known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, (Japanese: "Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster" was a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan that occurred at 14:46 JST (05:46 UTC) on Friday, 11 March 2011,with the epicenter approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku and the hypocenter at an underwater depth of approximately 32 km (20 mi). It was the most powerful known earthquake to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world overall since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake triggered extremely destructive tsunami waves of up to 38.9 metres (128 ft)that struck Japan, in some cases traveling up to 10 km (6 mi) inland. In addition to loss of life and destruction of infrastructure, the tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the ongoing level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones affecting hundreds of thousands of residents. The overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.


Paintings of The Lamentation of Christ by Italian High Middle Ages and Renaissance painters
by Fra Angelico

by Ugolino Lorenzetti

by Sandro Boticelli


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Kundiman



An email exchange regarding kundimans and Filipino love songs sang in movies of old reminded me of the first Filipino song I loved.... I was eight or nine years old then. We had just come to the Philippines, having lived in the US all of my young life. My grandfather decided that his grandchildren need to experience the Filipino way of life. He did not want us to grow up as purely Americans. So as an obedient son, my father packed up his family and we embarked on a long cruise on the Dona Nati from NY to Manila.


I was ensconced in school (Philippine Normal School) right away so that i can get exposed to other kids my age. I guess today they call this total cultural immersion. It was an adjustment and a challenge not speaking the language and trying to play with other kids during recess. And even in class, my NY accent was frowned upon by the teachers. I was pulled out from classes a few hours a day for a special Eliza Doolittle-like treatment to remove my accent. I realized much later that I served as a guinea pig for the teachers and the student teachers, this is after all a college for those aspiring to be educators. I guess their experiment was a success. Eventually, by the time I graduated from elementary school I talked like any other child in the playground.


Back to my song. My family owned a movie theater in Tanauan, Batangas, my father's family hometown.  One of our treats was to watch shows there. The theater showed both English and Filipino movies. This movie house was also used as a vaudeville stage where live performances were featured to the accompaniment of a piano ( or was it an organ?) situated just below the stage on the right hand side. This is where I saw my first Filipino movie which featured the song, 'Irog, ako ay mahalin.' I don't remember the movie title nor the actors but the song was sang against a backdrop of the setting sun and I was captivated. I saw the movie again and again until I memorized the song.


I did not know that this would be the start of my lifelong love affair with the uniquely Filipino musical genre known as the kundiman. It was the first real complex Filipino words I was able to learn and say, more like sing. Before that, everything was the basic 'Oo, hindi, kamusta, kain, laro...' (yes, no, hello, eat, play...) I'm not sure I knew the meaning of the song at the time but even at a young age, I could infer by the emotion of the singers that this was about being in love. I, steadfastly, tried to have anyone that would listen translate the meaning of the words for me. It made up for a quick, albeit limited study of Tagalog. Up to now the song ' Irog Ako ay Mahalin' still haunts me and pops up in my head once in a while. I do not remember all the lyrics anymore but I still love it and it will remain one of my all time favorite Filipino love songs or kundiman.


I consider the kundiman, one of the best art forms of the Filipinos and deserves to be preserved, cherished and shared. These plaintive, melodic songs always evoke happy memories and nostalgia for the Philippines. Even here in the US, it has been part of our life. We would still gather around the piano or guitar and sing kundiman songs.


The kundiman, 'Irog, Ako Ay Mahalin', was written by Tito Arevalo and was based on a Visayan Folk song.

These are a couple of links to video recordings of this song:

Irog, Ako Ay Mahalin

Kung langit ang pag-sinta
Kung pag-ibig ay pag-asa
Kailan pa liligaya
Ang palad kong sawi't aba

'Di mo ba nababatid
Lubhang tunay ang pag-ibig
Maawa sa akin
Irog, ako ay mahalin

Sabihin, ituro...
Landas sa iyong puso
Ako'y iyo, iyo lamang
Magpawalang hanggan

Dapat mong mabatid
Lubhang tunay
Ako'y bihag ng iyong pag-ibig
Maawa sa akin
Irog, ako ay mahalin


The Kundiman (from Wikipedea)
Kundiman is a genre of traditional Filipino love songs. The lyrics of the Kundiman are written in Tagalog. The melody is characterized by a smooth, flowing and gentle rhythm with dramatic intervals. Kundiman was the traditional means of serenade in the Philippines.


The melody and sentiment of the Kundiman tends not only toward the melancholy but also the cheerful, and the commitment of the heart to passion is celebrated in every piece. The singer of the kundiman expresses the pain and beauty of love felt by every listener, for the kundiman is not merely entertainment but an embodiment of collective emotion.

Endowed with such power, the Kundiman naturally came to serve as a vehicle for veiled patriotism in times of colonial oppression, in which the undying love for a woman symbolized the love of country and desire for freedom.



The Filipino composer, conductor and scholar Felipe M. De Leon Jr., wrote that the Kundiman is a "unique musical form expressing intense longing, caring, devotion and oneness with a beloved. Or with a child, spiritual figure, motherland, ideal or cause. According to its text, a kundiman can be romantic, patriotic, religious, mournful. Or a consolation, a lullaby. Or a protest and other types. But of whatever type, its music is soulful and lofty, conveying deep feelings of devotional love." [F.M. De Leon Jr., "But What Really Is The Kundiman?"



Some well-known examples of kundiman: 

To listen. please click on song name.

“Anak Dalita” (Child of Woe) by Francisco Santiago (1917)
”Mutya ng Pasig” (Lady of Pasig) by Nicanor Abelardo

“Bituing Marikit” (Beautiful Star), with music by Nicanor Abelardo and lyrics by Servando de los Angeles (1926)
"Madaling Araw" (Dawn) by Dr. Francisco Santiago 
"Maalaala Mo Kaya" (Will You Remember)  by Constancio De Guzman
(This song is particularly beloved as it is sort of an anthem of my high school class.)


Note: The image above was found on the web. I do not know who the artist is.