Brushing Off High Art: The Rise of Lowbrow Art Scene in Cebu

In 1998, a member of the Artists for A Better World International named Becky Mate founded an international holiday for the arts. “World Art Day” falls annually on the 15th of April which coincides with the birth of world-famous artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452). The theme for 2024 is “A Garden of Expression: Cultivating Community through Art”. 

World Art Day is a timely reminder of the solidarity that art reinforces through the links between artistic creations and society, heightening awareness of the role of artists in sustainable development. Indeed, art can unite and connect us even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Such is the case for the inhabitants of Kwarto Kwatro or K4 Gallery located at 11 Sunset Drive, Lahug. Founded by college friends Densen, DMR, Jani, and John Marco Torejos Socran Blackbolt, this experimental boarding house/gallery space is an emerging artist-run space.


On March 1, K4 opened “Artificial Inhumanity”—an experimental exhibition that transcends traditional boundaries, inviting contemplation on the blurred line between the artificial and the authentic. 

“It delves into the complexities of our shared existence, challenging perceptions of the mundane and unraveling the layers that define our human condition. It is a reflection on vulnerability, resilience, and the nuanced ideas between the ordinary and the extraordinary, reflecting on our participation of our own precarity.” -excerpt from Artificial Inhumanity’s curatorial statement.

The exhibited works provide a space for contemplation of the mundane and our part in it. It prompts viewers to engage with the subtleties of everyday life and invites them to re-evaluate the seemingly ordinary aspects of their existence. Participating artists include Ceona Gonzales, John Marco Torejos Socram Blackbolt, Densen Almeda, DMR, Jani, and Sab.

The Dominance of Lowbrow Art in Cebu 

There is no denying that the art world is steeped in exclusivity. Lowbrow Art, the opposite of “High Art” was actually popularized by painter and cartoonist Robert Williams who first coined the term. It was an act of rebellion against the institutional perspectives of what makes art “high” or “low”, and ultimately of what art should be. 

In the current contemporary context, lowbrow art has grown from a niche movement that celebrated the kitsch, fringe, and underground to one of the more dominant artistic forces. Such can be observed here in Cebu during the recent events such as Mindworks in UP Cebu and Cebu Lampoon Fest by DAKILA—a group of passionate individuals: youth, artists, educators, and workers struggling towards social change.

They aim to build a creative and innovative movement of heroism toward transforming society rooted in respect for human rights, democracy, and freedom. An upcoming exhibition called BIOSCAPES: Regions of Architecture engages architecture understood in its most liberal sense—as the organization of spaces and times. It unlocks the thought that architecture compels us to resist.

Today, on World Art Day, BIOSCAPES will be open to the public at the Jose T. Joya Gallery in UP Cebu at 6:00 pm.

Photo courtesy of Kwarto Kwarto Gallery

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