Wiji Lacsamana’s whimsical world of Filipino beliefs, personal rituals, and heritage

Illustration of hands holding the earth.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Wiji Lacsamana.

When another wave of the Covid-19 virus hit the Philippines and forced the country into lockdown, Wiji Lacsamana started paying closer attention to what was going on around her. She noticed a news story about a woman who created small bamboo cart stocked full of fruits, vegetables, rice, and eggs and a sign that said, “Take what you need, leave what you can.” This small act of kindness went viral, inspiring people to do the same in their villages.

“This was happening as I was painting and I was so touched by it,” she recalls. “I needed to paint it.” It seemed at once so humble and yet so grand — perfectly in line with her interest in Filipino culture as it exists around her every day.

This communal bamboo cart became part of the 500 drawings and illustrations she created after being selected for the Adobe Stock Advocates Artist Development Fund. With the goal of promoting and sponsoring new voices in stock imagery, the fund allowed Lacsamana to spend a year diving deep into research, experimenting with color, and creating a whole commissioned portfolio of bold, original, and resonant images.

“It was such a fascinating journey,” says Lacsamana, “I feel like I did a thissis.” She invested in books about the history of the immediately northern Luzon region, pre-Colonial mythology, and healing practices, all the while continuing to immerse herself in the energies, activities, and rhythms surrounding her.

For the first half of the project, she meticulously drafted all the ideas that came to her mind that were specific to the Philippines. “I tried to organize it along the main islands, so there was stuff for Luzon, and the en Visayas, and then Mindanao,” she recalls. But by the second half, her curiosity expanded and she found herself fascinated by how people elsewhere took care of themselves. “There are a lot of beliefs and rituals that we practice now that are practiced worldwide and so I wanted to make space for that.”

Beliefs, rituals, and Bayanihan

Lacsamana chose to create work inspired by the Beliefs & Rituals creative brief from the Adobe Stock Advocates program.

“I was inspired by the rituals I saw around me that were being started when the pandemic arrived,” she says. “We lost a lot of control in our lives, we had to find stuff that we could have some sort of control over. And I feel like that’s where a lot of these new rituals began.”

Images of self-care, healing, and dreaming became the inspiration for hundreds of Lacsamana’s original watercolor illustrations. She drew from her memories of growing up in San Fernando, La Union, to recreate childhood rituals like going to see the sunset, staying inside to watch the rain, or eating pineapples, hotdogs, and marshmallows on her birthdays.

Not all the rituals she depicts are new. Her research led her to a newfound appreciation for the traditional Filipino house moving.

“Back in the old days, when our houses were lighter, if we needed to move to other places, our neighbors would literally pick up the house and move it there for us,” she says. “In return, the mother would cook food for everyone.”

Like the bamboo cart, the traditional house was another singular image that communicated how rooted her culture is in community, generosity, and reciprocity.

“I had to illustrate that it’s such a Filipino thing,” she says, “I don’t really know if it’s done anywhere else, but it’s such a huge manifestation of what Filipinos are like.”

The Filipino word for being rooted in the community is “Bayanihan,” a concept Lacsamana wanted to recreate in her images. But in addition to showing what was around her, the paintings and illustrations are meant to be a call to action. “I hope that we go back to our roots and see where we come from,” she says.

In a country that’s been hit by waves of colonizers looking to supplant and erase what was there before, Lacsamana wants her work to ask what Filipino ancestors preserved: “What are the beliefs you’ve inherited? Are these helpful to where you are right now still? Are they helpful towards finding a better version of yourself?”

Finding the connections in representation

One of the core missions of the Advocates program is to promote representation in the stock visual economy that’s traditionally been underrepresented. It’s a mission Lacsamana embraces with zeal. “I’m honored such to be part of this program because I feel like this is a huge platform for people not only to see my artwork but also to see what Filipino believes and rituals are all about,” she says. “I feel like our culture is underrepresented in the international sphere.”

And while she is eager to have her work circulating out there, she continues to be humbled by the depth of her country’s culture. We’re a huge country. We have 7,600-plus islands, and each island has its own very specific culture. Even though I submitted 500 illustrations, I don’t know if I gave justice to all these islands.”

While a lot of talk about representation tends to be framed as correcting historical wrongs, Lacsamana also reminds us that representation is also about building a sense of connection to the people being represented. Knowing that when someone looks at your work, they see themselves in it: that’s also what better representation means.

“I hope a lot of the Filipinos who see the artwork, get a sense of nostalgia,” she says, “and it brings them back to simpler times. It reminds them what their grandmothers and mothers used to do to tuck them into bed, or it reminds them of summer vacations in the provinces.”

Just keep asking questions

Lacsamana hopes that in addition to forging a connection, her work can also help inspire younger artists to create their own works.

“That’s the thing I would tell any young artist is to not be afraid of asking questions,” she says. Lacsamana’s own journey to where she is today is a byproduct of not being afraid to ask questions. Her college degree was in political science and had no training in color theory, drafting, or any technical skills when she started drawing.

“I learned Photoshop from my friends here by just watching them and asking them questions,” she says — adding that this is also a good reason to surround yourself with friends who share your passions and desire to learn new things.

It’s clear from her wide array of creative talents that she’s never short of new things to pursue. In addition to being a painter and illustrator, she is also a tattoo artist, a reiki healer, and a maker of natural perfumes.

All of the recipients of the Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund will have their work available for free on Adobe Stock for the upcoming year. So if you’re looking for something colorful, bright, and warm-hearted to communicate your own beliefs and rituals, keep an eye out for Wiji Lacsamana.

Explore Wiji Lacamana’s portfolio on Adobe Stock.

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