Creatives on Q: “Gay rights!” says this Davaoeño multimedia artist
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the community quarantine, everyone, especially the working individuals, has dreaded the possibility of losing their job. With the country’s economic performance at its lowest in nearly 30 years, the possibility is highly inevitable. And unfortunately, this nightmare has come to life.
Blessed are those who still have their jobs to keep themselves and the family they are supporting afloat. But for the 17.7% or 7.3 million Filipinos who lost their jobs due to the ongoing health crisis, Oni Montejo included, they did not have any choice but to accept their unfortunate fate. However, for this multimedia artist from Davao, this loss has somehow let him reignite his love for art.
For almost eight years of working in BPO industry, which according to Oni and even the sentiments of those who experienced working in the said industry, working in BPO can take a toll on anyone’s mental health.
“I took on doing creative work as a hobby halfway through my career to save myself from depression and anxiety. Well, not really “save” because these demons are still here, but doing art keeps them at bay. I started with watercolor and moved to acrylic and digital painting last year. I also take photos in film and digital,” he said.
His artworks dwell more on homoeroticism, queer, dark themes, and social realities. His NSFW queer-centered artworks in particular are the ones, especially for us, that really stood out. Often depicting the lives of the gay community particularly on how they navigate with their romantic and sexual lives.
“For the longest time, I really wanted to tell queer stories from the LGBTQ+ community in Mindanao. These stories are not usually told since queer coverage is mostly focused in the capital (Metro Manila). I’m hoping that when this pandemic is over, I can travel, take more photos, and write,” Oni pointed out.
The Middle Mag PH spoke with Oni Montejo and talked more about his artworks and inspirations, the importance of mental health amid a health crisis, on why people should take art more seriously and more.
Creatives on Q by The Middle Mag PH is a special feature story that documents and highlights the creative process and plight of the young emerging artists in Mindanao while in community quarantine. The creatives industry, among other sectors, has also been adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Can you tell us more about your artworks? Where do you get your inspiration?
Most of my artworks reflect my current state of mental health as I create them. I have this bad habit of not being able to make something good if I don’t feel like it. This made my catalog very inconsistent and devoid of a recurring style. My artworks delve into homoeroticism, queer, dark themes, and social realities. I get inspiration from the literature and media that I consume along with current events.
Who are your influences? How do they reflect your artworks? How do they help you shape as an artist?
I look up to Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon for painting. I also take a lot of inspiration from Albert Camus, Gabriel García, and Pier Paolo Passolini. They make my art absurd, mundane, and visceral at times. I find their work very unyielding. There’s always purpose in everything that they do which makes doing art a little bit tedious coming from their influences. I always find it hard to make art without purpose. This is most probably why I don’t make a lot of finished artworks.
What’s keeping you busy lately?
Early this year, I lost my job due to the pandemic. This made me focus on my creative life. I now have more time for things that I am extremely passionate about. Currently, I am a volunteer storyteller for Sesotunawa. Sesotunawa a Tboli-owned social enterprise. I wrote and took photos for them when the brand started. I used to lead the marketing and branding department for the brand when the quarantine period began. I temporarily let go of this role to take care of my mental health, but I still do branding support for them like graphic design and video editing. Working with Sesotunawa also opened opportunities for me to work with other social enterprises as a visual storyteller and copywriting support. Working now as a creative is definitely a dream come true, albeit these jobs are not full time and don’t pay much, I’m very happy to not have a corporate job anymore.
Currently, I do freelance graphic design, translation and typesetting, and video editing work for several brands and friends. I’m easing back to Sesotunawa. Also, keeping an eye on my dog, Magda, who is probably pregnant. I am also writing and editing a photo essay project. Sadly, it’s on hold due to the pandemic.
As an artist, what do you think are your biggest accolades so far?
I’m not sure if by accolades you mean awards provided by organizations who give out trophies and plaques. I don’t have that. LOL. I’m too shy and too anxious to submit my work. But, I have little personal wins like an exhibit with a friend last year. A lot of the paintings were not sold but I have given them out in exchange for tents for schools affected by the series of earthquakes last year and early this year. It’s similar to another project I did with another friend during the Marawi siege where we exchange paintings for hygiene products. Storytelling for the Indigenous People in Sesotunawa. I’m really proud of being able to use my art and creativity to help others even in small amounts.
How do you keep your health, especially mental health, in check given what's happening in the world?
I have learned that pausing is a great way to manage your mental health. Our society has been too obsessed with productivity that we have learned not to stop or pause. Talking to others who understand mental health is also important. There are a lot of people around you are willing to listen. My friends at Sesotunawa encouraged me to take a break when things got out of hand. I am very privileged to have friends and family who took me in when I decided to pause and drop several things off my plate. But a lot of people do not have this kind of privilege.
But, seeking professional help is always the best option. Which is incredibly sad because a lot of those who need professional attention do not have access to mental health information. From experience, these can be very expensive and looking for information about state subsidized facilities and programs is very difficult. The stigma is also another demon. I hope the government prioritizes mental health with the same fervor with rehabilitating Manila Bay.
How do you go past the creative burnout?
I’m in the middle of it and I don’t know if I can ever past it. So, not much help to find here.
Why do you think people should take art more seriously?
Art records history in a very abstract way. It’s almost always open to interpretation which generates discussion. This is more powerful than any of the books written by whoever gets to win a war.
For commissions and collaborations, you can slide through Oni Montejo’s DMs via his official Instagram and Twitter account. Or you may also contact him through his website and check out some of his artworks at onimontejo.com