Contributor T.S. Indio. Tanya confesses to be a genuine “promdi” (Pinoy slang for “from the province”) who only had the opportunity to study in the city through a “collective diskarte”. Unhappy with the current atmosphere of the Philippine educational system, she decided to go back to the province to teach. After years of experience working with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) as an actor, theater facilitator, and then as a school teacher, she now takes this colorful and unpredictable ride of hope for the local communities in the provinces of the Philippines.
The taste and strength of Sir Nune’s art works and his vision can be compared to the strong, black coffee served hot and right at Kape Albarako, along with the sweet, sticky rice cakes made by the local vendors of old Sagay.
Old Sagay, Negros Occidental. I used to be afraid of “double meanings”. I used to associate them with malevolent thoughts coming from corrupt(ed) minds. Not until I met the social realist visual artist Nunelucio Melecoton Alvarado, only then did my negative view about double meanings turn upside down. Conversing with the visual artist made me realize using “double meanings” is also a habit of a playful, reflective, and critical benevolent mind.
The event we witnessed this morning marked the opening of the coffee shop and art gallery named, “Kape Albarako”. The name is a fusion of “kapeng barako” (strong coffee) and “Alvarado” (the visual artist’s family name). However, Sir Nune, as he is fondly called by the younger visual artists, would always jokingly explain, “it’s the coffee that is strong and not necessarily me” (He immediately gave a knowing smile to his wife, Tita Sally, afterwards).
The celebration contrasts those usual gatherings we see in the urban setting, where red carpets usually lead guests to the venue, long tables covered with white linen table cloth and daintily arranged plates and wineglasses razzle-dazzle the expectant eyes, and classical music entertain the watchful ears.
No, nothing like it at Kape Albarako.
Except for the beautifully arranged bunch of flowers displayed at the entrance of the coffee shop and gallery, the serene atmosphere of the bamboo walls warmly invited us to come in, making us look forward to what could be in store for the guests of the blessing and opening ceremony of Kape Albarako.
Another surprise awaited us upon entering Sir Nune’s place. It felt so refreshing to see Sir Nune and his guests sitting with other not-so-young early birds, sipping brewed coffee from white tin cups. Oh, those dainty tin cups would indeed remind any “promdi” (from the province) like me of that joyful feeling when you wake up very early in the morning, and breathe in the morning fresh air of the province. We momentarily experienced the dreamy provincial life as we sat down with the other guests, and joined them over a hearty breakfast of “puto” (rice cakes), “biko” (sticky rice mixed with sugar and cooked in coconut milk), “ibus” (Filipino rice logs wrapped in coconut leaves), cassava cake, and other “kakanin” (general term for these sticky rice snacks.
All these were made by the local market vendors of Old Sagay. Sir Nune deliberately positions his shop in a way that he could partner with the local market vendors and in small ways, help their small businesses in the barangay. The location of Kape Albarako further excites Sir Nune because from there, he can see the “Tabu-an” (local meeting place of market vendors with fish, farm products, and other local merchandise.) This happens only once or twice a week in different provinces. In Old Sagay, the “Tabu-an” is set every Tuesday. For Sir Nune, this is the perfect spot for him to continue to be connected with the local community, to have a chat with them, to learn their ways, and just be a continuing inspiration for him. The townsfolks who pass by the shop, grinning, offering fresh catch from the sea, or just peeping in to see what’s inside Kape Albarako only suggest how this quirky shop inspire them, particularly providing them a special feeling and a humorous break from the oppressive monotony of everyday living. Also, Tita Sally shared her plans to reestablish the paper-making activities they used to do a long time ago, a fun training the community can look forward to, and who knows, could be another inspiration for a social enterprise.
The music of Tatay Poldo and Tatay Amado completed the laid back atmosphere of Old Sagay, along with the salty breeze coming straight from the sea.
This provincial atmosphere contrasted the large folk modern art works displayed on the walls of the shop. Tita Sally (Sir Nune’s other half) was so busy preparing the food and coffee, we could hardly catch her for a chat. Nevertheless, this lively scene immediately illustrated how Sir Nune imagined the concept, the look and feel of his local coffee shop and gallery.
Kape Albarako is not a new name. Sir Nune and Tita Sally previously set up a coffee shop under the same name in Bacolod City. However, Sir Nune felt isolated in this urban setting. He recounted the feeling of being a stranger to the place. He described this nagging feeling of missing and wanting to go back to the more quiet side of Negros Occidental. Of course, for him, this more peaceful side of the province is his hometown in Old Sagay, where the New Kape Albarako is now located.
Negros Occidental is famously known for its vast sugarcane plantations. As an artist, Sir Nune grew up to witness the bitter side of the sugarcane industry: Sakada (sugarcane workers), child labor in sugarcane areas, and the difficult lives of ordinary people, such as the fisher folks, the farmers, and the market vendors. Some of these stark images are reflected in his works. However, instead of seeing sad, hopeless faces, Sir Nune portrays sharp, angry, and defiant characters who stare back shamelessly at their viewers. These images do not solicit nor forcibly milk out pitiful emotions from the onlookers. In fact, these paintings conjure that cold feeling just enough to help the mind ask sober questions like “What happened to them?”, “What have I done to them?”, “Am I part of the reason why they are in this kind of situation?” At least, for me, these are a few of the questions I personally asked myself as I immerse in this aesthetic experience, being surrounded by those bigger-than-life works by Sir Nune. The images are sharp, straightforward, strikingly brutal, with questions begging for some answers.
The artist himself describes his works as follows: he loves to paint people with faces and bodies in frontal positions, with sharp-edged shapes, and rich, dark colors completing the picture. Indeed, viewers could sense the jagged edges similar to broken glasses, the rich bright red colors lining the borders as if blood is flowing in the character’s pulsating veins, as well as the dark blue and black shades, which are reminiscent of those hidden despondent corners of Negros Occidental.
Nevertheless, despite the seemingly grim subjects and themes Sir Nune explores in his works of art, his vision for this sleepy barangay of Old Sagay is actually full of hope! The five young local artists who were present during the said event attested to Sir Nune’s contagious enthusiasm to keep the arts alive not only in Old Sagay, but also the larger community of Northern Negros. They likewise affirm Sir Nune’s exciting plans for Kape Albarako to house works of local artists and to hold visual arts workshops to interested groups and individuals.
On display during the opening event are the paintings of these five young and light-hearted visual artists, namely, Christopher “Topikos” Fernandez, Francis Fernandez, Surab Diesma, Gerom Bo-oc, and Rusty Quiatchon, along with other visual artists who were not able to make it to the opening of Kape Albarako. These young gentlemen expressed their gratitude to Sir Nune for giving them this rare opportunity to exhibit locally their art works. They testified how Sir Nune influenced and inspired them to continue honing their craft, while continuing to be observant of the social realities they encounter in their day-to-day lives.
Christopher “Topikos” Fernandez delightedly shared the story of his works on ink and textiles. Eight of his works are on display at the second floor of the coffee shop. Topikos drew child-like figures of animals commonly seen roaming around the backyards of the community or are found in farms, such as pigs, chickens, ducks, carabao, and sheep. What made his works unique are the words written around these drawings, which playfully describe how we human beings treat these hard-working animals, sometimes with delight and sometimes, with sarcasm.
Francis, Topikos’ brother (also a tattoo artist) displays some of his works with a commentary on childhood and violence.
Gerome’s painting titled, “In Between”, depicts an image of the person (probably a child) staring at the food on the dining table. Half of the image’s body is in full color with delicious fish on his plate, whereas the other half of his body is in black and white, with only fish bones on his plate. A kind of duality is left open for the audience’s interpretation.
Surab’s oil painting is washed in dominantly red color with the vendor selling fish on the street placed at the center of the canvass.
Rusty explored themes of childhood, mother and child, and their struggles.
Spread across the room are the works of Sir Nune. Some are half the size of his bamboo walls, and some are small. All his works seem to challenge the audience to look closer, to find the courage to stare back at the characters who seem to be fearlessly staring straight at the eyes of the curious viewers. Of course, the only way to experience fully these art works is to visit the place, while ordering a cup or two of the freshly brewed, “kapeng Albarako.”
Sir Nune’s guests included Nelly Rodriguez Landingin, Aaron Sorbito, Michael Dino, visual artist Marisol Alquizar And her fiancee, Simon. Also joining the ribbon cutting were Sonia dela Torre Yrastorza and Beethoven Fuentisfina Jr.
Kapeng Albarako also gathered people who have been spearheading exciting projects for the environment and the local community, such as the social mud house project in Don Salvador, Negros Occidental by Marisol and Simon, and the BambooSchool project in El Nido, Palawan.
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As an artist, Sir Nune focuses his themes on the social realities he witness every single day. As we were contemplating at the children’s museum in front of the shop, he would say, if you want to learn life, go the flea market. Go to the seaside and meet the fisher folks. Go to the sugar cane plantations and meet the sugarcane laborers. Go to the community and learn from them.
Indeed, though Sir Nune never personally claims he is an environmentalist, I think this is the fundamental step we need to do if we are to understand our environment and to look for ways to stop activities that would continue to harm the environment. If we learn to understand the problems of our local communities, and we learn to address them in the most local way, then, we are a step towards helping keep our environment a healthier place to live in.
In this most exciting time in our history as human beings, we need smaller, more local creative spaces to help our ideas soar toward more concrete and local actions. We need to inspire one another, and this is exactly what Kape Albarako is all about!
Come and Visit Kape Albarako Coffee Shop and Art Gallery at Brgy. Old Sagay, Sagay City. (In front of Museo Sang Bata Sa Negros).