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Interview with Jam Acuzar


Interview with Jam Acuzar
Image courtesy of Tammy David

The Artling spoke with Jam Acuzar, Director and Founder of Bellas Artes Projects, a contemporary art space that aims to reactivate the centuries-old Enriquez Mansion as a cultural and artistic centre. We find out more about her plans for Bellas Artes Projects in 2016!


What inspired you to create Bellas Artes Projects (BAP) in 2013?         

I was inspired by my father’s project, Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar, wherein he transplants and restores Spanish colonial structures from all over the country. Because of this project, located in Bagac Bataan, he has brought life to a lot of traditional craftsmanship and at the same time sparked innovative methods to restoration.

These workshops inspired me to start Bellas Artes Projects as an artist residency programme. I was fascinated by the idea of interactions between a contemporary artist and the craftsmen.

The beautiful Enriquez mansion (aka Escuela de Bellas Artes)
Image courtesy of Bellas Artes Projects

BAP is housed in the Enriquez Mansion (also known as Escuela de Bellas Artes), a centuries-old building that was relocated to its current spot in 2006. Tell us a bit more about the history of the building.

The Enriquez Mansion belonged to Rafael Enriquez y Villanueva, a famous painter during his time. Every corner of the home had a distinct history ever since it was designed by architect Felix Roxas y Arroyo in 1867. Roxas y Arroyo was the first Filipino to practice architecture during the Spanish Colonial Period. After Enriquez converted the mezzanine into a studio for his students, he eventually converted his home into the first Escuela de Bellas Artes in the Philippines in 1908. He even became the school's director from 1909 to 1926. Notable students include Juan Luna and Felix R. Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo, and Guillermo Tolentino, many of whom were honoured as National Artists. 

After his death in 1926, the Escuela had moved elsewhere. During the decades that passed, the mansion was converted to accommodate uncanny business particularly a bowling center, a dormitory, a space for sex live shows, and an abortion clinic. It was until 2006 we relocated it to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar and restored it to it’s former glory.


How has BAP evolved since its launch?

We first envisioned a contemporary art museum located in the Enriquez Mansion, and we inaugurated the space with an exhibition of works by Alfredo Esquillo Jr, Geraldine Javier and Renato Habulan. One challenge we faced is bringing the audience to the space, and communicating the message of the exhibition. We realised that we needed to focus less on exhibitions and more on projects with the workshops and the artists. That’s how we developed the residencies. 

The residencies allow us to partner with institutions like MCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design), and also with other galleries. Besides the residencies, we are also working on a project with Swiss artist, Not Vital, who is building a chapel within the property. We hope this project will lead to more partnerships with other esteemed artists like Not, where we envision a park for contemporary installations and sculptures. We thought this might create an interesting dialogue with the heritage structures.

Artist John C Gonzales at the residency in Bagac
Image courtesy of Bellas Artes Projects

Do you have a criteria for the artists you invite to be in residence at your space in Bagac? 

There is no specific criteria for the artists, however my team, together with advisors such as Joselina Cruz (curator for MCAD) have come up with a list of artists we would like to invite for the residency. 

We hope to bring at least three artists at a time to live in Las Casas Filipinas and do their research there. We welcome proposals from artists and if there is anyone who has heard of us, we would surely love to hear their ideas for a residency or a project!

Some of the projects produced at the Retablos Workshop
Image courtesy of Bellas Artes Projects

How do you see the local community interacting with the contemporary art and ideas that you are bringing in?

The local community responds very well to contemporary art. It is very fascinating to watch the communication of ideas from artist to the local craftsmen and women, and how they solve problems together and produce interesting work. Its quite funny to see the reaction of some of the workers or the craftsmen and women when they witness something outrageous to them, like a performance or a crazy sculpture. It takes them a while to understand it and when they produce the work, they gain this wonderful sense of pride. 

It’s inspiring to the local community to have the presence of one or several artists working with them, as it takes them away from their mundane activities. We’ve seen a lot of the younger workers in the workshops producing their own work that present more challenging ideas and subject matter. This is very exciting to see, as it shows that the community is learning from and responding to the artist.

However, the craftsmen and women also provide a lot of inspiration to the artists. The residencies also build relationships and friendships within the community that is bound by their interest and fascination for the projects.

An installation view of one of the works at Bellas Artes Projects
Image courtesy of Bellas Artes Projects

Your inaugural exhibition brought in some of the biggest names in Filipino art of today (like Geraldine Javier) and you continue to bring in international names (like Not Vital) – what plans for future exhibitions do you have?

As of now, we will not be disclosing any specific names as we have yet to finalise a lot of these agreements, but we are looking closely at two international artists. One would be completing a residency that is sponsored by a renowned gallery in NYC, and another will be a site specific work perhaps close to the Not Vital site. 


What do you think is Filipino art’s role within the larger Southeast Asian art ecosystem?

I don’t think Filipino art has a “role” in the SEA art ecosystem. I think Filipino art is part of the ecosystem, as are the rest of our SEA neighbours. I find that branding Filipino art as “Filipino” or typically “South East Asian”, as well as looking at what it’s role is in the regional art ecosystem causes problems in how artists think of their own work and how the audience views the work. I think the market is obsessed with branding art in terms of nationalities and cultural identities., so we should be careful. The more an artist imposes on their nationalities, the less interesting a work becomes.

Ms Jam Acuzar, Director and Founder of Bellas Artes Projects
Image courtesy of Tammy David

Do you see the Philippines becoming more of a destination for regional and international art lovers?

Yes, it is increasingly becoming more interesting but there is still a lot lacking with museums, institutions, etc.

The number of good galleries in Manila and the vibrant art scene clearly indicates that the Philippine art scene is growing and gaining more interest. We are beginning to see more foreign curators, collectors, auction houses and dealers visiting the country and doing their own research and making their own connections.

Art Fair Philippines is a really good time to visit and witness the excitement around the Philippine art scene. 


Find out more about Bellas Artes Projects here



Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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