Expressing faith through art when "God plays with colors"

In a place of magic and history, a Catholic artist displays her art among laughter, wine and faith

It was supposed to be an interview. An artist opened an art exhibit in, of all places, a remote town in the southern Philippines, a place nobody seems to have heard about that the new mayor had to urge his constituents in a Monday morning speech to mind and review their history.

On my way to the venue — an old house that dates back to the late 1800s that has been turned into an inn — I thought, “Who in his or her right mind would open an art exhibit in a place called Dapitan?”

(Note: The town’s claim to fame used to be as the place of exile of the country’s national hero. These days, nobody seems to know that piece of history aside from the town’s residents. Now, the town is known for its newly opened “Snow World,” a world class golf course, and scenic beaches and resorts.)

The evening turned out to be a night of poetry, music, wine, laughter, and sharing of faith experiences, not necessarily in that order. With family and friends around, who are more than willing to provide information and answers to non-questions, who needs an interview?

Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario is a Doctor of Medicine who used to work in a nuclear medicine department of a hospital in the central Philippines. For her pre-medicine course, she finished a Bachelor of Science in Biology.

After being a medical doctor for years, she studied and finished her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, went to the United States, and in the prime of her years, studied and finished her Bachelor of Music.

The “Colors of Adeline Art Exhibit”, which ran until the end of July, showcased Adz’s (Yes, she wanted to be called Adz!) latest works — flowers, birds, sceneries of her hometown, such as the old Catholic church in the middle of the town square, indigenous peoples, among others.

Painting of a local church by Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario - part of the “Colors of Adeline Art Exhibit”.

Painting of a local church by Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario - part of the “Colors of Adeline Art Exhibit”.

For an amateur painter — She only started to dabble in paint in 2017 — Adz is a prolific artist, producing several works inspired by music, a song, a passing scene, and issues such as climate change that she would hear over radio.

“Songs would inspire me. I love looking for inspiration in music,” she said in a whisper over the raucous laughter of cousins who seemed to enjoy the red wine and cheese prepared for the interview.

“I also have paintings that tackle issues like climate change and the destruction of the environment,” said Adz, smiling shyly, blushing a little. “I wanted to do portraits, but I am still exploring it because portraits are very personal,” she said.

Earlier, she defined her art as an expression of her faith, even as her friends would say that her works have a mix of “whimsy and enchantment.”

“I use my imagination in my art,” she said, adding that if there’s “whimsy” in what are supposed to be profound subjects, it is “not intentional.”

Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario shows "Fields of Zinnias" - one of works in the flower series.

Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario shows "Fields of Zinnias" - one of works in the flower series.

Adz said she’s not a realist. “I include my impressions in my work. I love to experiment and put stories to my art,” she said. “The emphasis is always the story, my interpretation of what inspired me.”

“Are you a religious person?” I just had to ask.

“I am a Catholic, baptized a Catholic, whose parents are devout Catholics,” she said.

She was born and raised in a very Catholic environment in Dapitan, one of the early Christian settlements in the country that is about to celebrate the 400th year since the arrival of Catholicism on its shores.

A search on the web shows that a permanent Catholic mission was founded in Dapitan in 1629 by Jesuit missionary priest Pedro Gutierrez, resulting in the establishment of “a strong and stable form of government” in what was supposed to be a Subanen tribal territory.

Expressing her faith in arts started at a young age.

“I love arts since I was young. Music was a very integral part of my life. I studied piano when I was young. I would play music in church and in school,” she said like a litany of saints in answer to my question.

“When I was older, I realized that I loved to look at paintings and other works of art. When I travel with friends and families, I would usually be left behind in art galleries and museums. I don’t miss museums wherever I go,” she said, unstoppable, mesmerized by her own story.

For Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario expressing her faith in arts started at a young age.

For Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario expressing her faith in arts started at a young age.

The time came, however, when she realized that everything was already there — success and wealth — and time itself was passing fast. Her parents were getting older and alone back home.

“I was in the medical field, and I did not have a husband and children, so I decided to retire early and came home to take care of my parents,” she said.

“My sister, an architect who is also into arts, sent me a box of materials, fearing that I would be bored doing nothing, sitting with our parents,” she said with a smile. It was 2017.

She started drawing and painting the mountains surrounding the sleepy little town of Dapitan, the fishponds and the seas and the fields that supply food to the mostly poor residents. “After that, I realized that I could do it, I could paint, so I never stopped,” she said.

Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario shows "Dahlias" - one of works in the flower series.

Adeline Felipa Eguia Sagario shows "Dahlias" - one of works in the flower series.

Adz’s colors, the inspirations are mostly from Dapitan — melancholic, backward, sleepy whose people descended from the indigenous Subanen, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and migrants from other provinces — are married into recollections of her travels, her experiences, her dreams, wishes, and angsts.

“Dapitan absolutely influenced my work. A big part of Dapitan is in my heart, in my soul. Dapitan is home. Dapitan is a place of peace and silence, a place of culture, a place where I like to spend my days with family and friends. Dapitan molded me, my personality, my relationship with family and friends,” she said.

“They helped me become me. They helped me express my faith.”

“I express my faith in various ways, but I prefer to pray in silence, alone, without much display of traditional practices, although I love to pray the rosary,” Adz said. “Will God accept my prayers even if my rosary beads are broken?” she asked.

In her shy but proud way, the artist said she looks at faith as “a personal relationship with God.” She said her work reflects her faith, her connection with God, because “art is connecting with the higher being, like how God plays with colors, with designs, in the flowers in the fields.”

Text and Photos by Jose Torres Jr.

Published August 14, 2022

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