“Embracing what’s innate to us is what I am empowered to do.”
When the #SigawDarna trended on Twitter, a bunch of local artists gave life to different iterations of the well-loved superhero. Gone was the fair-skinned Darna that we all grew up with. Artists from all over the country gave way to a more authentic Filipino image of Darna: morena, strong, and fierce — an overall badass who fights for the weak and oppressed.
Among these artists is Jouache, a 19-year old whose art has always put Filipino culture, diversity, and activism in the spotlight. His #SigawDarna contributions are three versions of the superhero, all inspired by the Filipina revolutionaries of the past. As a young artist, he understands the value of representation, and knows full well that art comes hand-in-hand with activism.
Describe your art style.
I describe my style as semi-animated morenx characters which are highly fueled by Filipino culture (from old tales to pop culture or a merge of two) depicted using warm tones.
Why did you decide to adopt that particular style?
I used to watch a lot of cartoons when I was young, from Disney animations to Japan’s anime TV shows. So, when I had the chance to create my own, I told myself to deconstruct and reconstruct those styles. I color my characters’ skins darker than the usual (similar to moreno/morena skin), playing with red and orange hues which I think is way distinct from Western and manga style. I often make them look child-friendly just like how illustrators draw in children’s books. I render them without strokes/outlines because I lack precision in drawing them — turning your weaknesses to strength, as they say. Good thing it trains me to work properly with my colors.
Have you always wanted to be an artist? How did your passion start?
I personally think that everyone’s an artist as a child. I think we all drew on our walls at least once in our lives. [The development of] skills in art depend on whether a child is supported with it or not. Luckily, I grew up in a family of art enthusiasts. Mom talked about how she used to do lettering and how my dad used to do creative visuals back when they were in high school. My kuya was the first one to be good at drawing and that’s when I decided I wanted to draw too. I started joining drawing competitions in nursery until I reached elementary and high school. And when I entered first year college, I followed my heart and chose a course that’ll help me grow as an artist. I joined UMak Student Media Group as a Graphic Designer when I was in second year and that’s where my passion for design and illustration rooted.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I’m so so inspired by Fernando Amorsolo’s pieces. I love how he incorporated warm tones in his works considering that color picker (in phones/Photoshop) wasn’t even a thing for artists back then. I am also heavily inspired by Frida Kahlo: merging art and politics into surreal works of art. I adore how she portrayed her emotions and turned her pain to something revolutionary. With my subjects, I draw inspiration from daily lives or from what I’ve heard from the elders, or basically from everything that’s around and translate them all in my mind.
A lot of your work centers on Filipino culture. How important is diversity and cultural representation for you?
Colonialism here in the Philippines is at its peak right now and I think this is the perfect time to advocate for the representation we truly deserve. A lot of us have had insecurities growing up. For not being light skinned like most of the cartoons we used to watch, for not having bright eyes and sharp noses like anime characters. Imagine if Filipinos were no longer foreigners to their own culture. Imagine us knowing more about our ancient mythology rather than the Greek’s. Imagine children dreaming to be like Darna and not Wonder Woman. I like how my art takes part of that image. Embracing what’s innate to us is what I am empowered to do.
Can you show us three of your favorite works? What’s the story behind them?
“Taho Para Sa Mga Bunso”
This was my entry for the Graphika Manila 2019 Souvenir Book. I created these characters (Mang Bong’s children: Tikoy and T’Ken) because I grew up in an environment where there were lots of roosters raised for sabong. I wanted to portray a child treating his father’s panabong as his youngest brother. Plus, who doesn’t love taho in the morning?
My favorite Darna design out of all my #SigawDarna works. I love how she’s unconventionally beautiful without losing the essence of original Darna. Her design is influenced by Prinsesa Urduja, a warrior princess from the pre-colonial Philippines. She’s giving you that royalty and strong woman vibe.
Here I incorporated elements which represent current issues here in the country: grabbing lands from farmers, media repression, misogyny and inequality towards women and the LGBT community, extrajudicial killings, exploitation of laborers, lowering the age of criminal liability and many more. I just realized that art is so much more than a piece hanging in high-end gallery walls. That art should be taking part in socio-political spaces. Making an impact in form of activism.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently in my fourth year of taking Digital Arts and Animation at the University of Makati and hopeful to finish it by next year. I’m also working with San Miguel Pale Pilsen as one of their collab artists for their future projects. I’ve been existing for 19 years and I am not yet sure what else future can bring, I just want to pursue what I’ve already started. Celebrating everything Filipino and at the same time, advocating through visual art.
Follow Jouache on Instagram to see more of his works.