Interview by DOM GALEON


I first met Kublai Millan in 2019, at the first ever Mindanao Art, a fair that showcased some of the island’s best and most talented artists, as well as young and up-and-coming talent. 

Kublai organized Mindanao Art almost singlehandedly, choosing to host the first of many art fairs in Davao City. I have to admit, I was greatly impressed by the amount of talent and skill I witnessed there, including works created by students Kublai has mentored. Such was the skill of Mindanaoans, creating art that reflected the region’s unique beauty and culture.

When the Covid-19 pandemic put the world on pause and knowing that the art scene and artists the world over are among those who have been deeply affected by the health crisis, I reached out to Kublai to check how Mindanao’s artists have been coping with the outbreak. 


How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected artists in Mindanao?

Artists are among the sectors classified as “non-essential” and thus have been sidelined the moment community quarantines were imposed. It took everyone by surprise. We even had a series of exhibits every month lined up that all had to be cancelled. You can imagine the loss of income opportunities this brought. This does not include their regular sources of income—whether as employees or freelance artists. With malls operating at reduced capacities, demand for commercial art and designs are expectedly low. But we are hopeful that we can find a way around this. Let’s just say, we are still getting our bearings right. It’s an entirely new landscape, we just have to learn how to navigate it—and learn fast.


Are there efforts organized by artists to help fellow artists and the industry there?

Early on into the quarantine, a group of artists in Davao initiated an online exhibit to help fellow artists. They gathered quite a number of participants. Aside from this, there are individual efforts to help each other. 

How do you think this pandemic will change how artists create and how viewers enjoy art?

We’re just lucky that this happened when the technology is already there. The virtual world is out there, and it offers a much bigger market. How to stimulate that market is the challenge. If you want answers now? We don’t have it. We’re just on our third month in navigating the new landscape. Even international leaders and think-tanks do not have the answers, how much more us? Today, it’s all about surviving while making use of all the time we have on our hands to explore this new reality, meditate on and learn the lessons this Covid is teaching the world, and be better prepared once the world opens again with higher spirituality and love for the earth.


One advantage of artists—at least those who have been thriving on their art and not the “hungry artists” waiting for inspiration—is that we have been surviving for so long by looking for opportunities and not just relying on employers. This should make us among the more resilient sectors. I hope.

What will the role of the arts be in a post-Covid world?

While classified as non-essential, art will play a key role in the recovery of the population. As has already been raised, aside from the physiological threat Covid poses to the population, there is the bigger psychological threat—depression is real. With so many people losing their means of livelihood, their investments, their businesses, scholarships, opportunities, many will be in a dark place for months to come. 

We just have to review the seven functions of art to realize that artists have a key role in this new world. These are Remembering, Hope, Sorrow, Rebalancing, Self-understanding, Growth, and Appreciation. Art has long been recognized as a valuable therapy. This will be recognized very soon, once people start to get their bearings right.


But there is the need for artists to find their center here and rise above the ego and self-serving sense of grandeur. It will be about how we better relate to our people, our environment, to the world, and how we tell these stories through our art so that this art can help uplift the downtrodden. It’s a different level of renaissance.

What’s the greatest challenge now for you as an artist and as a Mindanaoan?

As a Mindanaoan artist, we all know that the art market is still very much Manila-centric. The physical barriers put up by Covid are among the challenges, at first glance. But it’s really nothing that cannot be surpassed. It just needs a major reorientation, a coming to terms and getting a full grasp of where to focus our efforts. We even look at it as a big opportunity because this time this is an entirely new direction, everyone is a student once again, and there is the whole world as our audience and market. It’s no longer just Manila.


Any plans for Mindanao Art this year?

Nothing’s final yet, we’re still discussing with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) from which the Mindanao Art grant comes from. But like everything else, this will entail a major shift to virtual exhibits, conferences, and talks. We’re at the moment not just re-creating a proposal, we are also developing apps. It’s a marriage of visual art and technology and Lawig-Diwa, Inc., the organizer of Mindanao Art, which I head, has the capability to do this. We’re still in the thick of things. We will have more details in the coming months.


Source: Manila Bulletin (