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Local artist bags highest international award at Italy’s Florence Biennale

By Patricia Avila
November 19, 2021

As another heartwarming addition to the list of wins Filipino artists have been celebrating as of late, local painter Michael Garcia Villagante becomes the first-ever Filipino to win the top prize at the XIIIth Florence Biennale.

Besting 400 other artists from 65 countries who have submitted a collective 1,000 works for the exhibit, Villagante’s piece, “Pagtahan,” took home the coveted “Lorenzo il Magnifico” International Award for Art, the highest in the roster for the contemporary art exhibit.

“Pagtahan,” translated to “cessation of crying,” was inspired by Villagante’s wife and child, and holds environmental themes. In an interview with ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo, the artist explains, “Yung pagtahan na yun, yung kalong ng ina yung baby, yung pagpikit ng bata, yun yung parang naging ano ko, parang wala nang sakit. Wala nang mananakit sa kalikasan.”

(When the crying ends, when the mother cradles the baby, when the child closes his eyes… [I feel like] that’s when the hurt stops. No one can hurt the environment any longer.)

He points out the 5 men at the bottom of the painting, who represent the continents, and the heart above them, which represents the country.

The Florence Biennale, also known as Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contemporanea, is a major contemporary art exhibition held every two years in Florence, Italy. Founded in 1997 and growing in esteem over the past two decades, Florence Biennale has become one of the biggest international contemporary art events that showcase artists’ work while simultaneously allowing dialogue among artists.

During the pandemic, Villagante was hit with the misfortune of having to stop working, and soon, the company he was with closed down as well. With the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, he was able to travel to Florence to attend the event.

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