The first thing I noticed about Batanes is the little pops of art found around its lush islands, such as brightly painted cafés and tricycles splattered with geometric patterns. There’s a discernable art identity, but it’s not as loud or aggressive like Manila’s.
I was walking along National Road when I came across a small art studio with a red mosaic wall by its entrance. A couple arrived to open the door and I followed them, thinking that they were customers as well. They turned out to be the owners of Yaru Nu Artes Ivatan, a cooperative and gallery art center, and I was their first customer that morning.
Xavier Abelador was born and raised in Batanes, but he went to college at FEATI University in Manila. After graduating in 2006, he returned to Batanes to become a full-time artist. Through the years he and his fellow artists organized workshops and livelihood projects to help the local art community.
With the help of Fundacion Pacita, an artistic nature lodge in Batanes, Xavier established Yaru in 2011, and it became the first and sole art gallery in Batanes. Xavier spends most of his day tinkering and creating masterpieces in his gallery, and then welcoming curious passersby such as myself.
“There are now 16 of us artists here in Yaru,” he said, “but originally there were only seven of us.” His partner Michelle Balanoba showed me around their quaint space of paintings, junk art installments, sculptures, and handmade souvenirs. I didn’t have the budget for any of the artworks, so I browsed through their handmade Batanes souvenirs and picked a wooden carved lighthouse and a native bracelet made by Michelle.
“We encourage Ivatan artists and other walk-in artists to consign their works here, but of course our priority is the 16 members of our cooperative,” Xavier said. “The advocacy for this is livelihood for the Ivatan.”
We began talking about Batanes’ growing tourism and how there are many other spots in Basco that visitors haven’t heard about. “We aren’t on the standard tourist itinerary yet, but hopefully soon we’ll be part of it,” he said. “So far we’re number three on Trip Advisor’s must-see spots in Basco. Number one is the lighthouse, followed by Marlboro Hills.”
I wanted to stay longer to listen to these artists’ stories about their hometown and its growing art scene, but my group tour was about to leave the hotel. I thanked Xavier and Michelle for their hospitality, and quickly ran back to my hotel wearing my new native bracelet with the word “Batanes” woven into the design.