Leap and the Net will Appear [Part Dalawa {2}: Charm City Night Market]

Baybayin print (Photo by Zhou Winston  @wzhoupho  to )

Baybayin print (Photo by Zhou Winston @wzhouphoto)

“Leap and the Net Will Appear.” I don’t know if it’s because I’m a liberal artist, a dreaming American, a spoiled Millennial, or a stubborn Aries—but for some reason this quote fuels me to wonder, explore, and create without fear. To me, this quote sends the message that if we just go for the thing we want, the thing we dream about and yearn for, the universe will conspire to support us and make sure we succeed.

Sometimes I fight this feeling of curiosity and try to obtain a “normal life” by focusing on my client-based, secure, 9 to 5 career. Oftentimes I am even scared of the feeling because of this looming thought that if I don’t succeed then I will disappoint my parents and my whole family. However, I push hard to stay empowered and motivated by this quote. Thank God for that, because this little quote led us to start hosting supper clubs from our crowded dining room and tiny galley kitchen back in 2015, contribute to our first ever published recipe and story for The New Filipino Kitchen, and it’s what encouraged us to sell artwork at the first ever Charm City Night Market.

Prior to the Night Market, Timpla had been quiet to the public for quite some time, sitting comfortably in the silo of our living room as we shared our new focus of storytelling and artwork through the internet. Yes, we were sending out monthly emails and getting positive responses from subscribers, but we hadn’t really poured our souls to the community since our last supper club in 2017. Which is why when Stephanie Hsu (@chinadollbaltimore) and Leandro Legara (@foodnomad) of The Chinatown Collective approached me to sell work for an upcoming Asian-American night market she was organizing, the little voice in my head whispered {or maybe more like shouted}, “Yes, it’s time to leap!”

Until then I had only vendored twice, at the Baltimore Vintage Flea. Whether it was a mismatched audience or general inexperience on my part, both events only managed to sell a handful of pieces. As a result, I worried that our new artistic endeavor would not and could not be as successful as our previous food endeavors. Food was easy—everyone likes to eat (especially Filipinos) and we had years of collective experience in the food industry. Selling artwork, on the other hand, was a whole new ball game. Once I confirmed with Stephanie, my mind began to race with anxiety: will people like, understand, or care about our work; will they view us as legitimate in the art field; will they finally find out that we in fact don’t know what we’re doing, and that we’re just carelessly leaping off cliffs and hoping to find nets?

Manning our booth at the Charm City Night Market (Photo by Jasper Samson  @jaspaaah )

Manning our booth at the Charm City Night Market (Photo by Jasper Samson @jaspaaah)

With doubts in our minds but promises made and money already deposited for vendor fees, we had no choice but to push on. When brainstorming what to create for the market, we started with some basic concepts that we thought would be most marketable to the attendees: watercolors of Philippine flowers, landscapes of beaches, etc. We conceptualized for days but were neither excited nor enticed to create any pieces. We eventually realized that this is because when one creates art, he/she cannot simply push themselves to do the work if there is no emotional connection to the act. It is not like doing mindless paperwork or doing the same tedious task over and over again. It must be felt from deep within the heart and soul; felt by the purest form of self; the self that is most closely tied to the divine.

Feeling unmotivated and discouraged with our brainstorming, we scrapped the bland, watered-down ideas of what we thought could sell and shifted our energy towards what we knew in our souls we wanted to express. We brainstormed ideas about what would excite us to create meaningful work that we would be proud of even if no one was interested in purchasing them. Once I let my guard down and stopped approaching the project by what I thought people would be willing to pay for, I shifted my attention to my favorite topic—the one topic that I keep gravitating towards year after year, project after project: baybayin and indigenous tribal symbols. These were the themes for my senior projects in college, the basis for our Timpla logo, and the only thing that really fuels me to create. With that, we read through our go-to books on Filipino tribal symbols (1) and baybayin (2), scanned old notes from similar projects, and constructed new concepts inspired by Filipino life and history. In the end, we came up with seven strong pieces ranging from lighthearted and recognizable to deeper and more thought-provoking:

In the month leading up to the night market, we denied any and all social gatherings to work on the pieces. There were long nights of flurried designing, but the time we spent making art didn’t feel like work at all—in fact, it felt like a beast had unleashed from sleeping quietly within our bones and heart, a feeling similar to when we used to plan and execute our supper clubs. We felt stress and stiff joints along with elation, adrenaline, and excitement as we prepared our beloved pieces to showcase and sell. We weren’t confident in the audience reception, but we decided to take the leap and anticipated what we would meet on the other side.

Our amazing parents supported us by coming to the art show!

Our amazing parents supported us by coming to the art show!

On Saturday, September 22nd, a quiet and otherwise abandoned grassy field right outside of downtown Baltimore was transformed into a busy and bustling array of activity. Chinese lanterns and string lights lined table tents and buildings. Food vendors, artists, crafters, dancers, musicians, and performers brought the space to life. Streets were closed down in order to make room for the foot traffic of 12,000 attendees! And at the center of the tent arrangement, right across from the stage, we carefully and meticulously set up our grand reveal of Timpla’s rebrand—telling the story of immigration and cultural identity through art.

Our amazing titas Vivian and Lyn surprised us with their attendance!

Our amazing titas Vivian and Lyn surprised us with their attendance!

The night began in full swing, with attendees circling the perimeter even before the event officially started. As the evening progressed, more and more people scattered throughout the space and—much to our surprise—tens, dozens, and eventually hundreds of people curiously stopped at our booth. Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike were drawn to our colorful watercolors of jeepney, parol, and bahay kubo; our bold digital prints of baybayin and tribal symobls representing kapamilya (family), mandarigma (warrior), and diyosa (goddess); our nouveau pop prints of flowers, teacups, and maps of Maryland and DC. And, at the forefront of our booth, angled to be the first piece seen—and the one that initiated the most stops and conversation—was the alphabet guide for reading and writing in baybayin.

Prior to the show, we focused on being as humble as possible to minimize the blow—we told ourselves that if we can sell six pieces, it will have been the best market we’ve participated in. Thank God that the reaction from attendees was more supportive, uplifting, and empowering than anything we could have ever imagined! I wish there was a way to express in words the elation we felt as each person stopped by the booth to compliment, praise, and adore our pieces. The people that came into our booth were blown away with the level of creativity, detail, and uniqueness of the pieces.

We met so many diverse and curious people that asked questions about Philippine indigenous culture—a topic so overshadowed by Spanish colonization that most Filipinos don’t even know of its existence; men and women with tribal symbols and baybayin tattooed to their bodies; Fil-Ams excited to finally see art that told their stories and connected them to their homeland; non-Filipinos who bought pieces because they felt connected to the themes; and—as an ego boost—praises on our artistic skills and ability to tell such complex ideas through beautiful products. And in case you were curious: yes, we ended up selling way more than six pieces!

When the evening finally ended well into the night, we were swollen with appreciation and satisfaction to have landed on the net that we so hoped would appear. We realized, as we had time and time again, that taking the risk was worthwhile as it open doors and opportunities that we would have never come across. We truly learned an important lesson that evening: as the renowned artist Marina Abramović stated, “An artist should look deep inside himself for inspiration; the deeper he looks inside himself, the more universal he becomes.”

  1. Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern by Lane Wilcken

  2. An Introduction to Baybayin by Kristian Kabuay