How This Gen Z Artist Captures What It Means To Be Filipino Through Painting

Sining para sa bayan.

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.

Related: Meet This Filipino Queer Artist That Creates Ethereal and Otherworldly Paintings

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.


Dapit hapon, raya

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

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 by raya

Remedios / Raya (biyaheniraya)

Raya Filipina sketches

Sketches / Raya (biyaheniraya)

Indios Tagalos - Raya

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.”


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's untitled mural artwork of an artist

Raya (biyaheniraya)


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.”



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

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.”

Continue Reading: This Filipino College Student Drew Regular Street Vendors as Superheroes

Ylona Garcia Is Having A Great Year So Far

She's all that and more.

Armed with a love for people and music, the young singer-songwriter is on track to living her best life.

Related: 7 of Ylona Garcia’s Best Songs That You Need to Add to Your Playlist ASAP

Ylona Garcia’s career has always been on an upward trajectory. At 21, the Filipino-Australian artist has made waves not just in the Philippines, but internationally. As a member of American record label 88rising, managed by Paradise Rising, she’s released several hits over the last couple of years like All That, Don’t Go Changing, Entertain Me, and Vibin.

This year, she’s achieved several milestones for her career, spent time with good people, and started working on new music. Hear all about her wins in 2023 below!


Ylona’s recent win let her start August off with a bang. In honor of Filipino Heritage Night on August 2 US time, she performed the Philippine national anthem Lupang Hinirang in front of a crowd of thousands seated for a baseball game at the Dodgers Stadium. With a strong voice, wearing a baseball jersey in the colors of the Philippine flag, Ylona definitely made Filipinos everywhere proud.

@ylonagarcia nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataong kantahin ang Lupang Hinirang (Philippine National Anthem) sa palaro ng @Los Angeles Dodgers !! medyo kabado ako nung una na kantahin ito, dahil hindi ito ang sarili kong kanta. pero kahit na ganumpaman, ito ang kanta na nag-rerepresenta sa aking sarili at sa aking bansa. sinigurado ko na nasa tamang tono, tamang oras at higit sa lahat galing sa aking puso ang pag kanta ko nito. sana’y napasaya at napahanga ko kayo, mga kababayan. sana ay proud kayo, Pilipinas !! #fyp #dodgers #pinoypride ♬ original sound – ylonagarcia

Filipino Heritage Night is a special event done during sports events to honor and celebrate Filipinos and their culture, and Ylona was ecstatic, grateful, and admittedly a little nervous for the opportunity to represent herself and her country.

Medyo kabado ako nung una na kantahin ito, dahil hindi ito ang sarili kong kanta. pero kahit na ganumpaman, ito ang kanta na nag-rerepresenta sa aking sarili at sa aking bansa,” she wrote in her caption for Instagram and TikTok. “Sana ay proud kayo, Pilipinas !!”


In February, Wanderland Festival announced Ylona as part of their March lineup, joining artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Rico Blanco, and No Rome. Aptly titled Wanderland: The Comeback, the festival marked Ylona’s return to the Philippine stage after four years.

“it’s been almost 4 years since the last time i performed back home,” she posted. Ylona was scheduled to perform a set on 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Manila festival in December 22, which was unfortunately canceled due to bad weather. Thankfully, she was able to take the stage at Wanderland this 2023. After the festival, Ylona took to Instagram to admit that she was nervous about the performance, as well as express her love for what she does: “This moment is why I keep doing what I do.”


Ylona is known to be very humble and down-to-earth. In a press event and reported by Vice, she mentioned that one of her goals in 2022 was to buy a house for her family. When she went back to Australia early on in the pandemic, she went back to studying and even took a job at McDonalds! Described as “a literal embodiment of an extrovert,” she loves making connections with people—like her fans.

This year, she got the opportunity to meet members of the Organization of Young Filipino Americans at thee University of Virginia. She performed for and with them, hosted a kamayan with her team, and had meaningful conversations as she bonded with the students over their shared culture and heritage.


Everyone’s been patiently clamoring for new music from the artist for quite a while now—and based on Ylona’s several studio sessions teasing a new album, it’s definitely coming! This year, after a “much-needed break,” Ylona came back to the studio refreshed and recharged. Fans saw an influx of photos and videos of the singer-songwriter in recording sessions, merely a taste of what’s to come.

Mentions of “the album” excited fans on social media, and with every studio session clip, we are reminded of her versatility as a Pop/R&B artist, her gorgeous vocals, and love for music.

Throughout her career, Ylona has remained grounded, humble, and proud of her identity. She’s based in Los Angeles now, working on her music, taking her friends to Lakers games, and living her best life as a young artist blazing a trail to success. And we simply can’t wait for what’s next.

Continue Reading: With or Without Her HITC Performance, Ylona Garcia is Happy to Be Back in Manila