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Nova Awards: Ten bold, visionary Filipino artists

Stephanie Mayo



This year, MullenLowe Philippines, an advertising and marketing communications agency born in Boston, Massachusetts, launched the NOVA Awards Manila 2019 — an art and design competition open to Filipinos 18 years old and above.

The agency called for entries in the field of visual arts — which includes paintings, original fine prints, photographs, sculptures, assemblages, installations, murals, fashion, industrial design and materials.

Artists, whether amateur or professional, were challenged to submit entries that are innovative, provocative, bold and original, and which also contribute to solving societal issues.

The contest was open to artworks that were previously exhibited but were not entered in any competition.

Numerous entries from talented Filipino artists came pouring in, and the 10 shortlisted artworks were announced on 29 October at the Lopez Building, Meralco, Ortigas Ave. They were chosen by a judging panel that consists of celebrated figures in the Filipino world of art, design, fashion and photography. They include Kenneth Cobonpue, Leeroy New, Len Cabili, Mark Nicdao, JC Buendia, Jam Acuazar, Dennis Perez and Leigh Reyes.

Alan Fontanilla, managing director of MullenLowe Open; Tony Valdez, VP and head of Marketing for Meralco; Leigh Reyes, president and chief creative officer of MullenLowe Philippines; and Dennis Perez,country media director for Unilever Philippines.


Queenmelo Esguerra of TMG Global with Leigh Reyes, fashion designer and juror JC Buendia, Alan Fontanilla and Ponchit Rocha, president of TMG Global.

The 10 finalists

“Particles” by Dex Fernandez. A collection of installation art that comprises of silk-screened prints, coupled with balloon and resin. Fernandez’s art depicts life as short and fleeting, and was inspired by a recent health scare. Born in 1984, Fernandez is an established contemporary artist whose work has been featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the ARNDT Berlin and The Drawing Room, Makati.

“The Deconstructed Garden” by Michael Jeffrey “MJ” Suayan. A notable conceptual, street/fashion/fine arts photographer, MJ Suayan is best known for his images that teeter between painting and photography. With impressive contributions to foreign and local magazines and fashion websites, including Vogue Italia’s Photovogue, Suayan’s creative process in conceptual photography is intricate and tedious. Primarily self-taught, he takes a photograph, applies various processes like chemical treatments, burning, and scratching before doing a digital manipulation.

“Lalapatos,” by Maco Custodio. This is a collection of crafty, wearable, and sustainable sneakers. These upcycled athletic shoes are designed with nifty strips of pre-used foils woven in with the shoe’s leather. First, the foils are manually cut, sorted and cleaned in a Baseco community, then weaved in the small town of Pililia, Rizal, before they are assembled in the country’s shoe capital of Marikina.

Custodio had already made a name for himself in the fashion industry, with the veteran designer known for creating bags, hats, wallets, purses, and other usable products fashioned out of recycled materials.

“Non-space, Panorama” by AK Ocol. The female artist’s entry is a triptych graphite panoramic glitch on paper. Ocol utilizes images of glitched panoramas to produce a triptych of fake and contrasting images. Her art explores truth and fabrication in a series of fresh data landscapes.

OCOL’S art explores truth and fabrication while Orlina (right) focuses on optical glass that is laminated.

“Passion, Place, Privilege” by Wika Nadera. Nadera’s entry is his high-school thesis — a replica of the Philippine High School for the Arts’ Makiling Campus. He wanted to immortalize the many structures and buildings of the campus as they move to a new location in Bay, Laguna. He pays tribute to the design elements of the campus—from the bahay kubo-inspired cottages, to its Ifugao motif-inspired tiles, and even the surrounding trees, in hopes of preserving their memories.

“The Labyrinth” by Jerome Lorico. Fashion designer Lorico’s shortlisted entry is under fashion design. Through handmade techniques, along with the use of basic machines and spontaneous weaving, Lorico’s fashion collection is influenced by Greek mythology.

His designs are inspired by Icarus (the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth) and the never-ending struggle of Sisyphus (the king of Ephyra who was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top — and he has to repeat this action for eternity).

An established fashion designer, Lorico designs fashion, art, and home accessories in his own studio in Makati. He teaches Fashion and Culture and Fashion Criticism in Meridian International Business, Arts and Technology College and, for some time, handled Menswear and Apparel Counseling in College of Saint Benilde.

“Mama! Mama! I Feel Quaint” by Mamuro Oki and Abraham Guardian. The duo’s avant-garde entry is a collection of deconstructed mannequins mostly comprised of corded tubes knotted together and hemmed by tulle. They fashion their mannequins with oversized, hand-shaped cotton-filled tubular limbs and a mix of other materials to form elaborate body parts and outfits.

Oki and Guardian — known together as A.MÜ — previously exhibited this collection of their sculptural works earlier this year at the City Prince/sses exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France.

“Within Water: Beyond Water” by Harold Delima, Leslie Angbue-te and Jean Michael Diosma. The group’s shortlisted entry is an installation art focused on water — and everything beyond it.

“Within Water: Beyond Water” is technically a water filtration system created as an art installation for viewers to see beyond the mere and simple filtration process of improving the quality of water. The artists wish to depict the beauty of this simple and cost-effective filtering process and inspire deep philosophical thought.

Mon’s Drian” by Anna Orlina. The daughter of Ramon Orlina, the renowned pioneering glass sculptor in the Philippines, Anna’s entry is “Mon’s Drian” (a title that pays homage to her dad’s name combined with his favorite artist, Piet Mondrian) — a collection of glass sculpture almost similar to her dad’s pieces. The young artist creates optical glass that is cold-worked and laminated.

“Below Sea Level” by Ken Samudio. Inspired by coral reefs, “Below Sea Level” is a collection of fashion accessories and jewelry made from upcycled plastic, wood beads and recycled upholstery leather backing. Samudio, who studied biology, has a team of disadvantaged artisans who produced this collection of accessories that imitate the beauty, color and texture of an underwater ecosystem.


The grand prize winner of the 2019 MullenLowe NOVA Awards Manila will be awarded with one short course program at the Central Saint Martins – University of the Arts London, with a tuition fee amounting to £700, plus a free roundtrip economy class airline ticket and accommodation in London, United Kingdom.

Special prizes will also be awarded to two runners-up, a MullenLowe YourNova (People’s Choice) winner, Unilever Award winner and the Meralco Foundation Spark Prize recipient.

The artworks from the 10 shortlisted finalists will be on exhibit at Poblacion, Makati on 29 November 2019.

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