Through her paintings of everyday life, culture, and resistance, 21-year-old artist and student Raya illustrates her own understanding of what it means to be Filipino.
There’s much debate going on about what Filipino identity truly is. It’s been long discussed, whether in social media or the academe: what does it mean to be Filipino? Our history and culture are amalgamations of influences brought about by trade, travel, colonization, and globalization. Whether in cuisine or art, unearthing what it means to be Filipino is a daunting task that, perhaps, has no reward satisfying enough for everyone.
But for one Filipino Gen Z artist, to be Filipino means a shared experience of the everyday, a culture of diversity, and resistance. It’s about “recognizing the culture, arts, cuisine, homeland, and countrymen as integral parts of [our] identity” and fighting for our nation and its people no matter what.
Twenty-one-year old Raya is a freelance artist and fourth-year student at the University of the Philippines Baguio, taking up a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Her work amasses thousands of likes on social media platforms X and Instagram because of her distinct style and subject matter. An artist working with both traditional and digital tools, Raya paints with warmth, memory, beauty, and a love for her country and its people.
CAPTURING THE BEAUTY OF MUNDANITY
Dapit Hapon / Raya (biyaheniraya)
Raya’s art often features themes of youth, girlhood and womanhood, and Filipino life, culture, and identity. Most of her works exude an air of days-gone-by, evoking a sense of deep-rooted familiarity. For instance, her digital painting Dapit Hapon depicting Filipino children playing Chinese garter on the street is a warm, beautifully-lit piece encapsulating the simple joys of a Filipino childhood. Similarly, Tampisaw shows children relishing the rain, umbrella forgotten. You know they’re aware of the scolding they’re bound to get from their parents for playing in the rain, but they don’t mind.
Tampisaw / Raya (biyaheniraya)
The feelings evoked by Raya’s art is her attempt at capturing the distinct experience of mundane Filipino life. Referencing how sad it makes her to hear how many Filipinos want to leave their country for better opportunities, but knowing that it’s not their fault, Raya shares, “That’s why I make art about Filipinos, so that I can remind people in subtle ways that there’s a lot more to be proud of as a Filipino, even the mundane life.”
More of Raya’s work include women dressed in modern or traditional Filipino clothing, city staples like the tindahan or landmarks like Session Road, and artwork inspired by Filipino films like Liway (2018) or Goyo (2018). Womanhood is also often the subject of her work, an important aspect of her art and advocacy. In relation, the student-artist is also working on the beginnings of her thesis, which she hopes will delve into the role of women, particularly homemakers, in Philippine society.
Remedios / Raya (biyaheniraya)
Sketches / Raya (biyaheniraya)
Indios Tagalos Redraw / Raya (biyaheniraya)
Whether through traditional or digital methods, Raya’s artistry shines through. She was initially inspired by Disney and Studio Ghibli art styles, as well as artists like Sibylline, Aeonix, and Hong Seung Wook. “But as much as possible,” she says, “I want to exude the aura of local style.”
IN ART LIES RESISTANCE
Aside from Filipino life and culture, a distinct theme that’s woven through Raya’s artworks is one of resistance.
“Whether we like it or not, our political views are a part of what makes us Filipino,” she says. Plenty of her paintings reference Filipino struggle and the systemic issues that plague the nation and its people. An untitled piece, for example, depicts a young girl painting a mural similar to Botong Francisco’s Filipino Struggles Through History, a visual representation of how art serves as immortalization of memory and a reminder to resist oppression and fight for freedom. It’s a work of art that celebrates the unyielding Filipino spirit, shared across history and generations, even in the face of adversity.
Raya elaborates that “It is our duty as Filipinos to consider the implications of our decisions and what would be best for our nation. As it is our right to voice our concerns in various types of media, it is best to use art as a powerful instrument to inform and communicate.”
Raya uses her art to amplify calls for change and stand in solidarity with her fellow Filipinos. Last year, she opened art commissions to assist the victims of Typhoon Paeng, and created artworks supporting Leni Robredo for president during the elections. She’s able to craft clear, impactful messages through her art, criticizing injustice as she does.
Sa Ritmo Ng Buhay Estudyante-Manggagawa / Raya (biyaheniraya)
But in struggle comes optimism, and a spark of hope is also set alight by Raya’s work as she highlights important themes and opens discussion on intersectional issues. She aspires to be a children’s book illustrator, telling stories involving issues of “mental health, the environment, and history” to a young audience—an effort to change things for new generations who can learn a thing or two from history. Her favorite project is one done with author Lacy Bussey, a yet-to-be-released children’s book about keeping one’s dreams alive.
Her love for the Philippines and its people is clear as day in every painting, and her ultimate ambition is to be “an independent artist who promotes Filipino culture and traditions.”
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN ARTIST
Hindi Pasisiil / Raya (biyaheniraya)
Of course, like with any artist or creative, it wasn’t easy for Raya to pursue her ambitions of being an artist. Often, the art and creative industry faces plenty of judgment for not being lucrative. Raya doesn’t believe that’s true.
“There are a lot of career opportunities related to arts because a business cannot function without it. People who don’t understand how difficult it is to create art are the ones that make us feel inferior.”
However, even though the young artist always loved art and was passionate about creating things, there were times where she no longer found the process enjoyable.
“I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself to succeed, comparing myself to others, and depending my value primarily in terms of the things I produce,” she shares. She had to learn how to see her work “with the innocent perspective of a child” and to “focus more on the process than the final product.”
Tindahan Ni Raya / Raya (biyaheniraya)
In finally finding her style, what she’s fighting for, and what art truly means to her, Raya creates with and exemplifies what it means to be artista ng bayan.
“I came to understand that creating art isn’t just about beauty; it’s also a way to express oneself and create memories.”
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