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To be able to create, you have to believe that you are created.” ~ Maela Jose

Back in the days of the (in)famous cement pine tree standing on top of Session Road, the people of Baguio would anticipate how the tree would be decorated for Christmas. And when it was demolished, newer versions of Christmas “trees” would be installed. One version that comes to mind was composed of hollow spheres. Last year, Session Road wasn’t embellished with a tree, but we were devastated by the burning of the Christmas tree in Burnham.

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But this year, things are going back to tradition, and as Baguio has just been proudly named a UNESCO Creative City, it is only fitting that a Baguio artist take over for this year’s Christmas tree.

You’ve probably seen it. Its structure is tent-like. The cone-shaped white canvas is sprinkled with bright colors in different shapes and patterns, giving us a sort of 60’s or 70’s vibe. Rarely do we ask, who did it? We got the privilege to meet the artist personally. And now you do, too!

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Her name is Maela Jose.

We made our way to the outskirts of town in Tiptop Road. There, Villa Romana sits, which triples as Maela Liwanag Jose’s home, her studio, and a retreat house for those who want to get away from the city for a rustic, vintage stay. We sat down for lunch, and Maela told us many stories and insights.

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Originally hailing from Pampanga, Maela is one of many artists who came to Baguio, fell in love with the city, and stayed for life. As an artist, she has gained renown through different national publications and has even made it to the cover of Lifestyle Asia.

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The Color Gray

The 70’s would be known for its psychedelic, colorful art and tie-dyed clothes and fabrics. It was then that Maela first took an interest in creating with colors through tie-dye. But Maela would say that her true birth as an artist was during the explosion of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. She described the atmosphere as being totally gray as smog and ashes coated the sky. Life appeared to be dull in Pampanga, and as the nation moved towards rehabilitation, Maela wanted to make a change in her life by adding colors. She grabbed some paint, and her colorful journey began.

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The “Tinatik” Technique

We were brought to Maela’s studio, which was incredibly wide. Spread throughout the floor were four white tents. Three of those, already painted and dry, would compose the Christmas Tree in Session Road. On one side of the studio rests her works on canvas and cloth, and on the other side is an entire wall made of glass, giving her a refreshing view of the mountains and the sunset. There, we got a first look at her work and her process.

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She calls her technique, “tinatik”, a portmanteau of the Filipino term “tina” for ‘color’ and the Indonesian term “batik” which means ‘drop’. “Tinatik”, meaning “color drop” is very literal in the way that Maela uses a squeeze bottle to “spill” her colors onto her canvas. She then further refines the image using a paint brush.

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Her canvas, being a giant cone-shaped tent, looked like a challenging undertaking since it’s not a regular, rectangular flat surface. She starts with the tip of the cone, waits for it to dry, then pulleys it upwards, moving on to the base.

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The Christmas tree took a total of two months to accomplish, with a little help with manpower. Maela jokes that her back is already aching from always hunching down on the floor. The trickiest part, she says, is trying to keep everything neat.

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We will never forget her words, “to be able to create, you have to believe that you are created.” The Story of Creation is the inspiration for many of Maela’s works, especially the Christmas tree. But she doesn’t just tell the story with literal images. Instead, she put a Cordilleran twist with careful research of Cordilleran patterns and symbols which are used in artifacts, fabrics, and tattoos. Which is why if you take a close look at the Christmas tree, you’ll see patterns of spirals, zigzags, curves, and lines – each having meaning, such as spirals for hills, zigzags for fish, and diamonds for day and night.

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Her Soulmate

Maela Jose wouldn’t be complete without her soulmate, Sonny Zandueta. They call each other “Shine”, and the kilig feels were reeaaaal. Sonny is also an artist with a more abstract take on art. Together, they share the love of music and play as a two-man band. Their most recent notable gig was at the music festival in Sagada.

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Making a Comeback

Having disappeared from the media and the art scene for quite some time, designing Baguio’s Christmas Tree is a huge comeback for Maela Jose. She will also be displaying her artwork in the Baguio Museum on the 8th of December for her 25-year Retrospective Art Exhibit.

Maela Jose’s bright and vibrant personality are a reflection of her artwork. Believing that colors have an effect on one’s well being, there is never a gray corner around her. Truly an inspiration, we are reminded that when life seems dull and gloom, it is up to us to add rainbows to our own skies.

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