MANILA -- Throughout history, art has proven to flourish even in the most tragic and inopportune conditions — and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception.
After governments around the world enforced stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, amateur artists found plenty of time on their hands to devote to their craft.
Like Alyssa May Mariano, a self-taught painter, who was able to paint dozens of pieces during the lockdown.
“This quarantine period made me more committed to painting. I’ve always wanted to paint more, but I have been busy at work and with my studies so I didn’t give enough attention and time to painting,” she said.
While each of her paintings has its own story, the narrative the 24 year old is trying to evoke goes beyond her canvas.
“I want to start a movement for all artists and creators to not just make art, but to use art to kindle a fire in others, driving them to contribute to the needs of our society,” she said.
Through her paintbrush and palette knives, Mariano hopes to make an impact in the lives of farmers of Central Luzon who are struggling with the fallout of the pandemic.
“This pandemic has greatly affected some of our farmers. They have been forced to sell their produce at lower prices and had to struggle to keep their farms running,” she explained.
The millennial artist learned about the plight of the farmers through Bayanihan Para sa Magsasaka, a grassroots non-profit organization that provides food packs for farmers in Central Luzon.
“I saw @ForOurFarmers on Instagram and started following them. I have been seeing consistent posts about their daily work of giving food packs to farmers in Tarlac, Pangasinan and Misamis Oriental,” she recalled.
Through Anjanette Tadena, one of its founders, Mariano learned that employees of the Department of Agriculture started the organization using their own pocket money.
“I was really moved by their initiative to help and uplift our farmers. @ForOurFarmers believe that the people who till the land and feed us should never go hungry,” she said.
Moved by the group’s “bayanihan,” Mariano decided to contribute to the cause as well by selling her paintings and donating 70 percent of the proceeds to the group.
While her contribution may not be on a large scale, Mariano firmly believes “there is no such thing as a small act of kindness when your main purpose is for the benefit of others.”
While she takes pride in her craft, she admitted that if not for the encouragement of her friends and family she would not have considered listing her art in the market.
“When I started posting photos of my paintings, my friends started asking if I’m selling. I didn’t even realize that my paintings were sellable until my friends and family pushed me with their praises and appreciation,” she explained.
She continued: “It got to the point where a lot of people were sending me messages asking if they could buy my paintings. I guess that was the turning point for me, and I decided to share my art pieces with others.”
Mariano said she “felt the need to step up and show the spirit of bayanihan” for the marginalized group because she herself descended from a family of farmers.
“My grandparents, Inang Leticia and Apu Dong, raised my dad and his siblings through farming in Tarlac. They are my inspiration for this initiative. They are the primary reason for why I eventually decided to paint more and sell my paintings,” she shared.
To date, Mariano was able to provide food packs with insurance, hermetic technology bags and water bill subsidy to about 40 farmers.
Mariano’s acrylic paintings range from P3,000 to P15,000. Along with the price tag, Mariano also indicates how many farmers will benefit from each sale.
Most of the self-taught painter’s work was flared by personal experience. One of the main inspirations behind her paintings, for example, were her memories from her beloved hometown, which she described as “colorful, simple, and beautiful.”
“Growing up in Quezon province, I have always been so excited to see the yearly Pahiyas and Pasayahan festivals. These festivities introduced a world of bright colors and well-coordinated patterns to me,” she explained.
Mariano also has a few paintings inspired by her travel to Iceland, one of her favorite trips.
Aside from experiences, Mariano also uses art to express her “emotions and vast imagination.”
The amateur painter explained a lot of her paintings “tell stories of women dressed in wonderfully designed gowns with a mix of bright and muted colors.”
Mariano also paints pieces that represent the current state of society such as her "physical distancing—protest" paintings.
“As a self-taught painter, abstract painting is my way of voicing out my radical thoughts,” she explained.
While Mariano is using painting for change, she admitted it had also served as her refuge during the pandemic.
As the Philippines extended its lockdown from weeks into months, Mariano confessed not only did painting keep her busy during the lockdown but it also helped her cope with the isolation brought by the quarantine.
“I am an outgoing person and I love interacting with people. I also missed working with my colleagues in person so I needed to find a way to ease the cabin fever,” she said.
Mariano also added that painting and illustrating helped her “escape from pressure and stress” brought by the worldwide health crisis.
Although half a year has gone by since China reported the first coronavirus case to the World Health Organization (WHO) and while the virus has affected over 11 million people, and killed more than half a million across 188 countries, a lot about it is still unknown.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the new strain of coronavirus, WHO said feeling stress, fear, and anxiety is natural.
To lessen stress and anxiety and better care for one’s mental health during this difficult time, the Psychological Association of the Philippines recommended the public to “do things they enjoy and make them feel good,” like painting, in the case of Mariano, as well as eat healthy, exercise, stay connected with loved ones virtually, adopt a regular routine, focus on what can be controlled, and limit exposure to social media.
For more information on Mariano’s paintings visit her website.
To learn more about the farmers, visit here.