Arts & Culture

Art Fair Philippines Co-Organizer Dindin Araneta: A Lifelong Student of the Arts

Arts education, development, and appreciation have been three of the central points of Dindin’s career, a course that came naturally to her.
IMAGE JAKE VERSOZA
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For the past 25 years, Dindin Araneta has built a career around the arts. After internships at the Smithsonian, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and at Guggenheim Museum, she etched her place in the Philippine art industry through her extensive work at the Museum Foundation of the Philippines. Currently, she is a chairperson at the Arts Management Department at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, as well as a member of the National Committee for the Visual Arts at the NCCA. And yet, none of this would have happened had it not been for a fateful encounter with a millennia-old sculpture.

As she tells it, Dindin was just like any other college graduate in that she had no idea what to do after getting a diploma from the Humanities program at the University of the Philippines. She eventually had a chance to visit the Louvre, and it was there where she first saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

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Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre

Samothrace depicts the winged goddess Nike standing defiantly against an unseen storm. Her garments, clinging to her form as though drenched, billow softly as her frame stands strong. The sculpture, believed to be from c. 200-190 B.C., has lost its head and arms to time, but not its grandeur.

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“I swear to god, when I saw how the statue was positioned, it sort of changed my life,” Dindin shares. “I felt so inspired by how elegantly it was perched, not in a white space or a black cube, but on top of the stairs. I guess the impact of seeing that sculpture, the installation, the age, the history—the overall impact of the artwork actually stopped me in my tracks. It was awe.”

“So of course, I had to read about it,” she adds.


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Dindin Araneta wearing Maureen Disini. Shot on location at Archivo 1984 Gallery.

Arts education, development, and appreciation have been three of the central points of Dindin’s career, a course that came naturally to her. She found herself drawn to programs that helped secure government and private support for burgeoning artists, even though pursuing this advocacy was hardly ever a conscious decision. It simply is, as she says, what interests her—perhaps because she’d never lost her inquisitive approach to art.

She is prone to thoughtful pauses as we converse. There is the occasional joke that belies her groundedness—“I hope I don’t look like a Tita of Manila!”—but more often than not, she begins her responses with questions she asks herself, as though she were still a student working on a reflection paper.

That thoughtfulness comes into play when she is asked to share her insights on how social media has affected the consumption and creation of art: “Nowadays, it's so easy to rationalize and say, ‘Oh, this is art,’ in the use of performance art and even Instagram. You have an audience and all of a sudden, [your work] is validated. But commercial validation commercially may not always be critical validation. That's why I think conversations are important.”

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I believe that you appreciate different things. There are many entry points in terms of art appreciation. You can't impose one framework, one way of seeing.

“I think now because everyone is so busy, conversations about art and conversations about ideas should find their way back into what we're all doing. I think it's important to find time for that. Being thoughtful is important when things become too hectic.”

Seven years ago, she—along with Trickie Lopa and Lisa Periquet—organized what would become one of the more significant contributors to those conversations on local shores: Art Fair Philippines. Intended to be a yearly showcase of Philippine contemporary art, the event has proven to be a large draw in the region; other countries in Southeast Asia, for instance, avoid holding major events concurrent with Art Fair’s schedule. Its audience has grown from an estimated 6,000 in its first year to about 35,000 in 2018—and with that audience comes the growth of conversations about art, both in number and in diversity.

More: Art Enthusiasts Patricia Coseteng and Trickie Lopa Lend Insight Into Their Collecting Habits

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“You do get a lot of people that come, that discuss these things,” Dindin shares. “We have curators, we have collectors, we have people from schools—students, teachers—so you get everyone talking about art now, and the conversations vary at different levels. I believe that you appreciate different things. There are many entry points in terms of art appreciation. You can't impose one framework, one way of seeing.”


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“Of course, there are always conversations of the value; the financial value, the commercial value,” she continues. “But I think apart from that, there are also conversations to be had about what is important to take stock of today, in terms of the direction of Philippine contemporary art, and where we can go, and where we're at internationally.”

“Seeing how the audience will grow, and seeing their response to it—I guess that excites me specifically. We try to put it together always with the general public in mind, and that's one exciting thing about it: to see what they will appreciate this year, what they won't like, what they will comment on.”

The conversations Art Fair sparks on all levels, she hopes, will lead to improved appreciation and education in art, which eventually help develop our local artists and galleries.

I've always been open to the fact that you have to make way. You always have to make way for new players, for new ideas.

“We finally have an audience, not only for the visual arts and the art fair, but we have an audience for dance, for film, for theater. Having been part of the journey to be able to build audiences, we've tried to see how we could work with schools, for example.”

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“There's always room for improvement, in terms of how the institutions can raise the bar in terms of quality programming, or even in terms of how the art galleries or the different alternative spaces can find a way to be more critical, but also find a way to be more popular, because it's also a way of enhancing appreciation.”

“And then, of course, reading about art,” she adds, smiling. “Researching, reading, visiting the museums, visiting galleries, continuing to learn, continuing to study. Those are all very important. It's always being thoughtful about what you do, whether individually or as an institution. Always thinking about where your ideas and where you take them. For me, it always goes back to that: Art is about ideas.”


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Putting together Art Fair, however, is a gargantuan effort, and Dindin stresses that one of the highlights of each event is the fact that they’re able to sustain it another year; the sense of gratitude, she says, is ever-present. For her, Art Fair is the product of the arts community coming together to do something important for Philippine contemporary art, “Even though it sounds like such a cliché,” she jokes.

Through it all, Dindin remains candid about her role with Art Fair as the years pile on. She understands that its very nature as a showcase of contemporary art means that her involvement with the fair will evolve and perhaps eventually fade.

She muses: “I always ask myself: ‘Til what age will I have a contemporary mindset?’ When you talk about contemporary art, you're talking about the art of now, and there are so many new players in the community doing some really, really exciting things that I can't even conceive of. I'm having to pay attention to them because they're so significant, but at the same time, I can't always say that I understand it.”

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“I've always been open to the fact that you have to make way. You always have to make way for new players, for new ideas.”

Despite this acceptance, Dindin doesn’t see herself truly moving on from what Art Fair represents, or from the industry in general. True to the pattern that’s established itself in her 25 years on the field, she believes that the future holds opportunities to continue with her scholarly pursuit of art.

Seeing how the audience will grow, and seeing their response to it—I guess that excites me specifically. We try to put it together always with the general public in mind, and that's one exciting thing about it: to see what they will appreciate this year, what they won't like, what they will comment on.

“So maybe, if I move on, I’ll move on with trying to rationalize everything that has happened,” she shares. “To look at it from a more historical perspective, like in hindsight, ‘What have you been able to do?’”

“There's been no one concrete study that will trace the history of the development of art audiences in the Philippines. I'm thinking, maybe when I retire, that's something that I can do as part of a Ph.D.: to rationalize everything that's happened in the last 25 to 30 years, and where it's at today.”

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“I’m thinking it's a role I will eventually move to, because really, there are so many incredible things that are happening now that I can't begin to understand. It's amazing.”

For now, however, she has the prospect of Art Fair PH—from the conversations it opens to the inspirations it sparks—to look forward to, and what opportunities it might open up for the thousands that walk its floors.

Perhaps someone else will find themselves stopped in their tracks by a particularly arresting piece at the fair. Perhaps they’ll go back home asking questions about it, and research about the artist and their other works. And perhaps, years from now, they, too, will be looking back at a life well-spent as a student of art.

Archivo 1984 Gallery is at 2241 Pasillo 18 La Fuerza Compound, Chino Roces Avenue, Legazpi Village, Makati.

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Marco Sumayao
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