Angono: the only artistic capital of the Philippines

For many Filipinos, the mere mention of Angono (pronounced “a-ngo-no” or “ang-go-no”) can conjure up images of the arts. Music, painting, sculpture – this normally quiet municipality in Rizal Province is renowned for them and for producing some of the Philippines’ finest and most influential practitioners in these fields, including national artist and celebrated painter Carlos “Botong ” Francisco, and the master composer and conductor, Prof. Lucia San Pedro. Their legacy lives on in many of the city’s young residents, who through their substantial efforts continue to enhance Angono’s reputation as the art capital of the Philippines.

How did Angono become the artistic capital of the Philippines?

Given its reputation, it is somewhat surprising that Angono did not have a distinct identity for much of its long history. Originally a tour of Pasig, Angono fell under the control of various towns in the region (Taguig, Morong and Binangonan), and even the neighboring province of Laguna, during the Spanish and American colonial eras. It was not until 1939 that it became a fully-fledged and independent municipality.

Although the art capital of the Philippines does not have a particularly historical origin, the arts are deeply rooted in the region, even before famous painters proved their talent on a national scale. Over 2,000 years ago, the ancient ancestors of the Filipinos showed a talent for the arts, which was evident through the Angono-Binangonan petroglyphs. These were ancient club art carved into the rock formations at the top of the mountain and nestled into the jagged cliffs of what is now Eastridge Golf Course.

Coincidentally, the finder of these petroglyphs was none other than Botong Francisco, one of the city’s pioneer artists and future National Visual Arts Artist – who was also one of the key figures in consolidating the title of ‘Angono as the artistic capital of the Philippines. Today, these petroglyphs are maintained and preserved by the National Museum of the Philippines.

As for Botong Francisco, he became a revered muralist who became famous for his interpretations of the country’s most historic events on canvas, which are now part of some of the most prestigious government and private collections. His name is synonymous with the Filipino art scene and is the inspiration for almost every painter in Angono and the nearby towns of Rizal.

To this day, Botong Francisco is celebrated by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), with the most recent taking place during his birth month. An exhibition titled “Homebound: A Survey of Recent Developments in Angono Contemporary Art” was held in 2017, with various artists exhibiting their works to promote Angono’s artistic history as the art capital of the Philippines. In a way, these young artists share Botong Francisco’s courage to rebel and challenge existing artistic norms; the passion for research and diligent reading to reach the right detail of a work in progress; and, of course, their love for Angono and keeping its history, culture and tradition alive and festive.

Today, this once obscure city is proud of its hundreds, if not thousands, of artists – painters, musicians, sculptors, designers, literary and performing artists, artisans and others indirectly connected to the art industry. It also boasts of having the largest number of art galleries and museums in such a small territory and visiting it and contemplating their beauty will take you a whole day.

Museums and galleries to visit in Angono

If you’re planning a trip to the art capital of the Philippines, you should be prepared to spend an entire day visiting the many museums and exhibits that celebrate Angono’s love of the arts. In a way, Angono is like stepping into an art gallery, with artworks of varying shapes, sizes, and qualities. Don’t be surprised if you find one at almost every turn, with nearly every barangay having at least one gallery. If you have a deep appreciation for the visual arts, Angono will keep your eyes busy for hours.

Arguably the most famous art gallery in Angono is the Blanco Family Museum. The ridiculously talented members of this family, led by Jose “Pitok” V. Blanco, are known for their portrayals of the charming rural lifestyle and colorful city festivals. A good number of artworks present the rural genre with real faces of the townspeople and his family as the characters, including Pitok himself, who is easily recognizable in his sleeveless white undershirt . Once you enter their large, deliberately appointed two-story gallery, you will be guided from one collection of impressive artworks to the next, beginning with those of Blanco’s youngest child and ending with those of the patriarch.

Another well-known destination in the art capital of the Philippines in Angono is the Nemiranda Art House and Gallery. Unlike the Blancos, the gallery owner, the famous painter Nemi Miranda Jr., or Nemiranda, uses the legends and mythical creatures of Angono as subjects for his works. And unlike the Blanco family museum, this gallery also serves as a venue for art workshops and lectures. The local master also owns the Artcamp and Tambayan, a riverside studio, social center and accommodation for visiting artists.

Now 72 years old, he recently held a one-man birthday exhibition titled “Lockdown Series” where he showcases his latest works he made during the heightened community quarantine period and depicted them on his canvas. According to Miranda, he considers the lockdown which can perhaps be called a golden age for artists where they produced their best works, being sequestered at home for over a month.

At Barangay Santo Niño, there is the Tiamson Art Gallery. Unlike Nemiranda and the Blanco family, artist and musician Orville DR Tiamson seems to possess a broader artistic style, as evidenced by his works found in his eponymous gallery, which range from the conventional to the experimental. His artistic style cannot be pinned down to one genre, but is a combination of cubist, multimedia and avant-garde styles, which moves away from the mold of typical figurism adopted by the artistic community. Inspired by Andy Warhol, the versatile middle-aged artist is also interested in alternative music and media.

When is the best time to visit Angono?

While you can visit the art capital of the Philippines anytime to revel in the visual arts, there is one specific date that might yield the most rewarding local tourist experience: November 22-23. This is when the city celebrates its annual feast, which honors its patron saint, Pope Saint Clement, the fifth pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. According to legend, Roman soldiers hooked an anchor around his body and quickly threw him into a river, where he drowned. For this, he became the patron saint of fishermen. As Angono is in the northern part of Laguna de Bay, it’s not hard to see why its people chose him as their protector.

On the first day of the festival, dozens of imposing papier-mâché effigies, called higantes or giants, parade through the streets of the city, delighting onlookers. Originally there were only three effigies – father, mother and son – but since the 1980s the number of higantes has increased, partly due to the efforts of the Department of Tourism and the cooperation of the main companies operating in Angono.

On the second day, the image of Pope Saint Clement parades through the city, carried by male devotees and accompanied by parehadoras (devotees dressed in colorful costumes with wooden shoes and carrying paddles). The festivities continue as the image is carried on a specially constructed and ornate pagoda, which sails along part of the bay until it reaches dry land. Once on dry land, the image is then taken back to the church amid joyous rejoicing. Throughout the procession, participants and spectators constantly spray each other with water. So, a tip: prepare an umbrella or an extra set of clothes.

Angono is also a local gastronomic destination

Apart from being the artistic capital of the Philippines, Angono also hosts unique and exotic dishes. It is also famous for a handful of restaurants and specialty eateries. The most popular of these, the specialist restaurant Balaw-Balaw, founded by artist Perdigon Vocalan, offers an impressive selection of local and exotic dishes at reasonable prices.

A must-try sample is the minaluto, a family-sized combo meal made up of a variety of starters and mains. The indigenous-themed resto also pioneered the production of the iconic giant papier-mâché that gave its name to the Higantes municipal festival.

As an added attraction and perhaps as a way to exhibit Angono’s title as the art capital of the Philippines, the restaurant has an adjoining art gallery – Ang Nuno Artists Foundation Gallery – where you can spend time looking at the artwork on display, some of which is for sale, while waiting for your meals to arrive.

Not to be outdone, Nemiranda also has a similar establishment, the Nemiranda Art Café and Restaurant. Its delicacies and refreshments are varied and at quite affordable prices. A giant sculpture of the mythical characters Amihan and Habagat will welcome you at the entrance.

If you are adventurous or have more pedestrian tastes, you must visit the so-called Fried Itik Lane, which is located next to the Angono Gymnasium on M. Diaz Street. Take your pick from stalls that serve itik, or duck, which they fry until crispy and dipped in a special spicy-sweet sauce. Its taste is something you won’t exactly forget.

Soak up the visual arts and enjoy pure Filipino creativity

It is undeniable that Angono is a paradise for local visitors and artists in search of inspiration. With its decades-long vision and commitment to the arts, Angono has earned its place as the art capital of the Philippines. Although it has already produced some of the most sought after names in the art world, this city hasn’t stopped yet – encouraging younger generations to maintain the culture of art appreciation. Plan your trips to Angono today and prepare to enjoy days filled with striking color and memorable artwork from some of the Philippines’ most decorated artists.

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