Agusan Manobo artist introduces Mindanao culture in residency program in China

Award-winning visual artist Carlito Camahalan Amalla, a member of the Agusan Manobo ethnic group, brought the rich heritage of the indigenous community to the 2023 Silk Roads Artists’ Rendezvous from late November to early December. It was a residency program that aimed to promote cultural exchange and mutual learning through art.

Amalla, the founder and leader of the Agusan Artists Association in Butuan City and the Balangay Artists Association in Manila, was invited by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China and Zhejiang Provincial People’s Government. He joined other artists from 22 countries in an extensive cultural immersion in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, the home of the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Amalla was given the opportunity to visit the most historical cities in the region. Included in the tour was Hangzhou, the center of the fertile rice-growing area and the site of the most important silk industries in the country. He likewise had an immersion at the prefecture-level Shaoxing and Huzhou.

The former is famous for its traditional bridges, architecture, yellow wine, and textile factories while the latter is where silk, Chinese calligraphy brush pens, tea, porcelain and wine originated.

During his stay, he produced three acrylic paintings, which he donated to the China International Cultural Association. His works also joined those from 70 contemporary painters in an exhibit at the Chinese Art Academy Museum. He likewise conducted a lecture on suyam, traditional Agusan Manobo embroidery characterized by various geometrical designs, during the program’s series of seminars and discussions.

The artist also staged mugna puppetry, a ventriloquist showcase that includes chanting, dancing, playing of indigenous instruments, and presentation of visuals on the tangible and intangible legacy of the indigenous community.

Amalla is a performer, puppeteer, dancer, chanter, musician, ceramist, and researcher, who participated in exhibitions in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the USA. He is currently an assistant professor for the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Culture-Based Art of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. He holds a bachelor in Fine Arts degree with a major in Sculpture and a master’s degree in Art History, both from the University of the Philippines.

His Agusan Manobo embroidery art thesis, paintings, and puppetry in Sinuyaman: Awit ni Baylan were part of the Mindanao: Cartography of History, Identity and Representation presented at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London in 2019.

He was a recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Leadership in Culture and the Arts in New York City.

Early this year, the International Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi of the University of the Philippines Diliman recognized Amalla as one of the Promising Young Artists of the Triennium for his contribution to championing the Philippine visual arts and the Agusan Manobo culture in dance, textile, and sculpture in the global scene.

The National Economic and Development Authority likewise named him as Caraga Region’s Most Outstanding Volunteer (Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award Individual Category) and the Regional Nominee to the Search for Outstanding Volunteers 2023.

Amalla’s participation was made possible with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines.