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Cultural Insights To Manila

Manila was an original global city, ‘the pearl of the Orient’, connecting trade routes from the Pacific Ocean to the Spanish Americas. Highly urbanised, today it is the world’s most densely populated city. Its arts scene is arguably the most progressive and exciting in Southeast Asia, led by artist-run spaces. 

Victorio Edades and the Thirteen Moderns first introduced concepts of modern art to the Filipino public through opening their ateliers in the 1920s; the Artist Association of the Philippines founded 1948 and the Philippine Art Gallery in 1951 cementing an understanding of modern art. Arturo Luz opened the capital’s first professionally run commercial gallery in 1960 and from 1976-1986 directed the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, one of the first government-sponsored contemporary art spaces in Asia. 

The father of Filipino Conceptual art Robert Chabet’s work at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts and his artist-run Shop 6 inspired the next generation to open new organic spaces which have shaped the art scene since the 1970s. 

Manila is a focal point for today’s collectors, its galleries and institutions articulating new voices and fostering artistic talents.

This guide was created in collaboration with Laura Egerton.

Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipino Research Center

The Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center is one of nine museums and galleries in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. A centre for Philippine art and culture, its main concerns are research, exhibitions and education.

Fuminori Nousaku in collaboration with Rosario Encarnacion-Tan, Bamboo Theater, 2017, Bamboo, rice sack, nylon, reinforced concrete, Part of the exhibition Almost There, UP Vargas Museum

The institution is home to the collection of art, books, archives, memorabilia, coins, and stamps of Jorge B. Vargas, donated in 1978. An avid collector with a vision for sharing Philippine art to future generations, objects were acquired during his illustrious career in public service. Originally displayed in a private museum within his residence at the Kawilihan compound in Mandaluyong, the collection was transferred and the museum formally inaugurated by President Corazon C. Aquino in 1987.

The museum has galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions and spaces for workshops, lectures, symposia, walkthroughs and talks by artists and curators. The library accommodates researchers, scholars, students, and artists and hosts small exhibitions.

Installation view of Ayco, Imao, Bose, Junyee at the 1F Lobby Gallery, curated by Roberto G. Paulino, part of Place of Region in the Contemporary (2017), a project by the Philippine Contemporary Art Network (PCAN).

The Vargas art collection consists of oil paintings, watercolours, pastels, drawings, and sculptures from the 1880s – 1960s, covering an extensive period of Philippine art history, ranging from the Spanish period to Philippine modernism which began in the thirties. It includes works from different styles and traditions, from the Academic style of the nineteenth century to the modernisms of the first half of the twentieth century. The collection also has drawings, cartoons, and caricatures.

The collection is known to have the greatest number of works by Fernando Amorsolo, the country’s first National Artist.

As a university museum, the Vargas Museum responds to the needs of an academic environment, focusing on the methods of art history but also reaching out to diverse disciplines. Around this commitment to the university through the curation of the collection are programmes in contemporary art, social discourse, and art education for the institution’s diverse audience. 


Maria Taniguchi, Untitled (Dawn’s Arms), 2011, Digital video, flat panel monitors, wood
Image courtesy of the artist

SILVERLENS is widely recognised as one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Southeast Asia. Through a vibrant exhibition programme, participating in leading art fairs, fostering gallery partnerships, and collaborating with institutions globally, SILVERLENS aims to place its artists within the broader framework of an international contemporary art dialogue. Its continuing efforts to transcend borders across the diverse art communities in Asia have been a priority for the gallery which was founded by Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo in 2004. 

Gallery facade, courtesy of SILVERLENS

Sharing a background in photography, the founders initially intended SILVERLENS to be a platform for photographers. From 2008 they expanded their remit to include all types of contemporary art and since then, Lorenzo and Rillo have worked tirelessly to increase the visibility of local Filipino artists and those from the diaspora.

Bernardo Pacquing, 21 September – 21 October 2017, Silverlens, Manila, Installation shot courtesy of Silverlens

Their roster of 27 represented artists includes several artists who have become household names in recent years, such as Maria Taniguchi who won the Hugo Boss Asia Art 2015 award; Martha Atienza, shortlisted for the Asian edition of the Benesse Prize in 2016; UK-based, Manila born Nicole Coson; Bernardo Pacquing; and light and media artist James Clar, who recently shifted his studio from New York to Manila.

Share Location, James Clar, 26 June – 24 July 2021, Silverlens, Manila, Installation shot courtesy of Silverlens

Calle Wright

Calle Wright is an art house located in the heart of old town Malate, Manila. An initiative realised by Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo of SILVERLENS, it is a venue for mid-career and established artists to exhibit their work within a historical context. As an art space it aims to engage community audiences and spaces within Manila, while also fostering an exchange between artists, curators, and cultural workers both within the Philippines and abroad.

Facade image, Calle Wright

Exhibitions at Calle Wright run for three months, with the current artists deciding who will exhibit next, passing on the experience and being directly responsible for the ongoing narrative of the space. The building is where Lorenzo grew up, built by her grandfather in 1956. The name is taken from the area, named after Luke E. Wright, an important city planner in Manila. 


Exhibitions to date have included collaborations between Heman Chong and Gary-Ross Pastrana; Lesley-Anne Cao and Lao Lianben and solo presentations by Lani Maestro and Joe Bautista.

School of Love, Lani Maestro, 7 December 2018 – 3 March 2019, Calle Wright, 1890 Vasquez St., Malate, Manila. Installation shot courtesy by Calle Wright

Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD)

The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) is a large warehouse space located inside a design school on the campus of De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde. Distinct locally for its position as a non-collecting institution, MCAD’s innovative contemporary art exhibitions, learning programmes and rich agenda of events showcase the possibilities of technology and new media. It presents content that encourages engagement with art and culture, its practice and production, as well as its presentation and interpretation. MCAD is a space where art is central, serving as inspiration to its viewers and a means by which to understand the world at large.

View of Haegue Yang, The Randing Intermediate–Earth Alienage Rising Sporing, 2020 in front of a part of The Fantastic Warp and Weft of a Tropical Depression, 2020 at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) Manila. Photo: At Maculangan/Pioneer Studios.

By remaining reflexive and responsive to changes in society, politics and the production of ideas, the school seeks to engage with its local neighbourhood, creating activities inside and outside the gallery, encouraging people to change their mindsets and perspectives, disclosing how creativity can affect lives. 


Inaugurated in 2008, the space was created as a collaboration between the Founding Director Marian Pastor Roces and architect Ed Calma, both sharing a belief in the importance of a curatorial vision. Key considerations were to keep the space very flexible and subdividable both vertically and horizontally, so it could teach students about scale and allow for experimentation, movement and reinvention. They had the idea of it being a laboratory that helps develop students’ ideas. It has become an important venue for showcasing contemporary art from the Philippines and wider region.

Still from Martha Atienza, Man in Suit, 2008, Single-channel video, 15 min 2 sec, Courtesy of the artist and Silverlens, part of the exhibition Constructions of Truths, 2020.

Bellas Artes Projects

Bellas Artes Projects is a private non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting Filipino culture and connecting contemporary artists from different parts of the world. They support creative projects and knowledge production by local and international artists, providing a platform for experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration through residencies, a series of exhibitions and education programmes. Their mission is to bring together the local artistic community by sharing ideas and starting conversations with diverse global perspectives, believing that collaboration is fundamental in making art accessible and useful for all. 

Installation shot, Songspiels and Tragicomedies, BAP Outpost, October 19, 2019 – January 24, 2020, Featuring: Chto Delat, Alfredo Esquillo.

Its outpost in Quezon City produces four exhibitions a year and a broad public programme, connecting audiences to the activities of Bellas Artes Projects in Bataan.

Aerial view of BAP location, Bagac, Bataan.

Its residency headquarters are in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage presentation project and home to Jose Acuzar’s collection of restored Spanish-Filipino houses in Bagac, Bataan. It is an inspiring environment including historical important buildings such as Casa Quiapo, which was reconstructed as the Escuela de Bellas Artes contemporary art space in 2013 and the Non Vital Chapel created in 2015. The residency programme offers international artists the opportunity of developing their practice in dialogue with historical memories and the present-day context of the site. They can collaborate with artisans from local workshops, fueling innovation in a wide range of art-making practices in the fields of visual arts, performance, architecture, and image-making. 

In 2019 Bellas Artes Projects began ESKWELA, an experimental school for transdisciplinary thought and context-responsive art making. Acclaimed artists, film theorists, anthropologists, curators, historians, and dancers from the Philippines and abroad deliver intensive seminars, talks and workshops. Students can select a range of topics and courses that reflect their interests. 

Workshop facilities, BAP, Bayac, Bataan


Established in 2013, 1335MABINI took its name from its address 1335 A. Mabini Street, in the Ermita district of Manila city. In 2017 the gallery relocated to Karrivin Plaza in the neighbouring city of Makati, its Artist in Residence programme (AiRPManila) continuing to engage with the local community in its original location. 

Gallery facade, 1335MABINI

1335MABINI represents artists from the Philippines such as Poklong Anading, Kiri Dalena, Cian Dayrit, Nikki Luna, Manny Montelibano, Indy Paredes, Jill Paz, Mark Salvatus and Dexter Sy, as well as Soun Hong from South Korea, Yoshinori Niwa from Japan and Hermann Nitsch and Peter Moosgaard from Austria.

From 2012-2020, 1335MABINI hosted 29 solo and 25 group exhibitions, 39 artists in residence, performances, talks, screenings, workshops with more than 100 artists and participated in 22 art fairs. 

1335MABINI gallery is committed to artistic positions and practices exploring mobility, history and critical engagement with collective memory and politics. The programme examines concepts of autonomy in globalisation, an international gallery solidly grounded in the contemporary art ecology of Metro Manila with a mission to be a platform for outstanding and innovative art.

1335MABINI’s Artist-in-Residency programme provides time and space for Filipino and non-Filipino artists, curators, writers, and creators to conduct research or to develop and execute creative projects. Institutions and ministries are also welcomed to apply for a residency that can be customised according to interest areas.  

Poklong Anading, untitled (landmark), 2008-2015, chromogenic transparency in lightbox.

Jill Paz, Untitled (Site No. 13), cardboard, part of the exhibition The History of the Present, 2018

Laura Egerton, October 2021.