The Red Traveler Speaks Her Mind: An Interview with Ms. Con Cabrera of Artists’ ARREST

Ms. Con Cabrera, a member of the Artists’ Response to the Call for Social Change and Transformation, or Artists’ ARRREST, in this interview shares with Bulatlat her views on arts, issues confronting Philippine society today and some personal things that she wanted to share with her audience.

This young artist had shown her prowess in an exhibit last year, MissBehaving, together with Ms. Bunch Garcia, another superb young artist and a member the Neo-Angono Arts Collective, which garnered a lot of applauses and commendations.

The young artist, who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), is now making waves in the art scene with her unique style of presenting the people’s struggles, particularly of women, in her immaculate white canvases.

Our first encounter was in October 2008 at the Lunduyan Art Gallery in Kamuning, Quezon City. She and Ms. Garcia had hung their paintings on the walls of the 30 x 30-meter gallery. These were pictures of women of different types, shapes, sizes; showing different moods, ideals, intellect. Ms. Cabrera’s series of pieces was titled “The Red Traveler”.

MissBehaving was indeed a success but between the exhibit and this interview I hardly heard from Maria Consuelo G. Cabrera, or Con.

Con Cabrera (left) with Bunch Garcia during the “Fact Sheet” exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Con Cabrera)

The 28-year old Pampangueña artist hails from a family of well-known artists. Ben Cabrera (BenCab) and the late Salvador Cabrera are her uncles (“They’re my father’s cousins,” she said in an email interview). And some of her other kin are also into arts.

Noel Sales Barcelona (NSB): After your two-woman show with Ms. Bunch Garcia, what has made Con Cabrera busy? Is there any new work?

Maria Consuelo Cabrera (MCC): After the October ‘08 show, I joined several group shows in Novermber, “boXed 3″ organized by J. Pacena II (Cubicle Art Gallery, Pasig), “TutoKKK: Anong K mo?” organized by the artists’ alliance Tutok Karapatan (Blanc Compound, Mandaluyong and Blanc Makati), and Artists’ ARREST’s “Fact Sheet” exhibit last December where I helped curate.

I’m currently employed as an art director in a publishing company. Aside from my day job, I’m busy helping ARREST in organizing for their events and campaigns. I’m also busy with my upcoming group shows, and another volunteer project where my friends and I paint on bare rooms and walls of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center. We started this last Christmas break, and do it on scheduled weekends of each month. So far, we were able to paint two rooms, including the Hema room where cancer kids have their chemo sessions, and the wall of the OPD waiting area. I also started a project, “Naku! I’m FIRED!” — which addresses the issue of mass layoffs. It’s a cross-disciplinary art project patterned after “Wrapped” by Mark Salvatus where the outputs are multimedia and participatory. I plan to collaborate with other artists in this project and try to bring them to pickets and rallies of workers to do their art and interact with the people.

NSB: What/who are your influences in art?

MCC: I am fan of women artists like Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian early baroque painter; Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi, Filipina painter and printmaker who lives in France; Brenda Fajardo and Karen Flores. I admire their perseverance in being the artists that they are, especially with the art field being dominated by men. I am also inspired by works of the masters Juan Luna, Amorsolo and Botong Francisco, also by artists BenCab (of course), Manny Garibay, Jose Tence Ruiz, young artist Wire Tuazon, and red artist, Parts Bagani. I also draw inspiration from contemporary street artists like Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Bansky and painter Ian Francis.

Point of view in arts, being an artist, and the roles that an artist plays in the society

NSB: How do you view your art and how do you define art? Is it just confined to self-expression and/or gratification?

MCC: First, I would like to say that I am thankful that I am able to show my art at this particular time of my life when I have grown to be the activist that I am. Though I would not want to label my art as social realism because I am afraid of the expectations one is burdened with when labeled as such, I think I can say that I am resolved to create art that tackles the masses’ struggle against those who oppress them. I have nothing against artists who make art for self-expression. I think that phase is natural at some point in an artist’s life, and I am hopeful that there is also a point where an artist showcases content that is beyond it, that there would be a time in their lives where they would devote their art to an advocacy and/or the further advancement of art in the country.

NSB: How do you assess the art industry in the country?

MCC: I think art industry in the Philippines has a lot of potential. Even in the early times, we had proven that we are rich in talent. We have skills and talents that are recognized by the world. I just wish that there would be more advanced ways of preserving artworks, more art historians, more published local art books, more art and cultural education for the masses, and more recognition for our local artists, and art and culture exposure that reaches beyond the metro.

Kompo by Con Cabrera

Critique on issues affecting culture and the arts

NSB: What are your views about…

(a) Globalization and its effects on arts and the art industry as a whole?

MCC: Art is becoming a commercialized industry, it is affected by the crisis because it lowers the demand for art selling. But then again, it becomes rich in inspiration and I wish more artists look at it from this perspective to make them create more art that is socially relevant and that depicts the present situation of the country, more as painting history.

(b) Philippine social realities and its connection to propagation and development of arts and culture?

MCC: It is an unfortunate fact that culture and the arts are not a priority of the government that is why everything’s backward. “Spoliarium” is the only restored painting we have and it is unacceptable that our art will be lost in a matter of time if we do nothing about it. Art is an important part of our culture and it needs preservation.

(c) Role of an artist in developing national and social consciousness?

MCC: Art is part of making and writing of history and for that, it is our responsibility as artists to bring upfront more socially relevant contents in our works. Works that don’t only mirror social reality but also has a call for change.

(d) The “liberalization” and “Westernization” of arts?

MCC: Though westernization had opened us to exposure to more style and art forms, it also has set a benchmark for art to carry on what is “globally accepted”, leading us to forget to maximize and utilize what is our own culture and art.

Con Cabrera on the road

NSB: Any upcoming shows?

MCC: March group shows:

Mar. 6 – a mini art exhibit by Shangri-La Mall for the celebration of Women’s Month

Mar. 28 – “Resurrection” in My Little Art Space Gallery in Greenhills

May 26 – “PasyoNasyon” by KASIBULAN (Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan) at the CCP main gallery

NSB: Any message to your fellow artists?

MCC: To artists, may they realize the power of art as a tool to revolutionize and change the system that has long been a burden to the masses. That they may find the true purpose of art that is for the masses and to gear it towards them that it is not for an individual or an institution alone. Because as artists, we are also citizens as Brocka once said, and to elaborate on that, let me quote Sir Boni Ilagan on his speech during ARREST’s general assembly last July 2008:

“..The artist-as-citizen must learn more than the technique of his art, but the politics and ideology of his commitment.

“In this connection, may I say that as we artists-as-citizens create, our works only become relevant AND enduring only if and when they illuminate social reality beyond the parameters of the urgent and into the hopefulness of the militancy of the people’s movement.

We shan’t lose our vigor by Con Cabrera

“My third point is about the end-all and the be-all of our creations. What is the use of it all when the people for whom we create are not affected in a manner that inspires them to act? All our works amount to nothing if they remain on canvass, on paper, on the screen or video monitor, on stage, or in CDs and tapes. But they will amount to everything if they leap from their medium and into the hearts and minds of the people. And then, ultimately, the people themselves must transform our art into a material force in their collective struggle to create the greatest work of art there could be.”


NSB: Who are your favorite recording artists?

MCC: I listen to a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s rock, punk, classical and folk. I like Bob Dylan, The Clash, Janis Joplin, cellist Yoyo-Ma, The Section Quartet, Twelve Girls Band, Radiohead, Bjork and a lot of British Indie Bands.

NSB: Do you go for film? What genres?

MCC: I am a fan of Michel Gondry, Akira Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai and Michael Moore, and of course my docu-filmmaker friends from STexposure Kiri Dalena, King Catoy and RJ Mabilin. I watch a lot of indie films more than hollywood mainstream.

NSB: Any funny experiences while working on art pieces?

MCC: I have a habit of cleaning my art space before I paint.

And I once got caught by a policeman while doing graffiti in Philcoa overpass. We were shooting a music video for Bobby Balingit and that was the time of peasants’ Lakbayan from Southern Tagalog to DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform). The policeman confiscated my spray paint and insisted we come with him to the station. In the end, our foreign filmmaker friend talked to the police and gave him a bribe.

NSB: Anything under the sun that Ms. Cabrera can share?

MCC: Everything is a decision: being happy or sad, having a meaningful life or letting oneself be carried away by the current.  (First appeared at