From Root to Stem, Tita Halaman Bears Fruit Through Cross-Genre Art

April 22, 2024 – Alike Editorial

Tita Halaman’s figurative paintings with splats and strokes are concepts about emotional intelligence in her own signature sculpted frame.

“My real name is hard to pronounce, and my artist name is always a good conversation starter,” Tita Halaman (Joisha Juatco) laughs, her name translating to Aunt Plant in English. Her “Tita” reflects this young artist’s old soul. In colloquial use, halaman doesn’t just mean plant, but it implies someone who is either a wallflower, quiet, introverted, and observant, or in the dating realm, someone who can be reserved with affection. She named herself “Tita Halaman” because of a childhood story she deeply treasures. Way back then, she was so quiet that she didn’t speak or play with other kids. All she did was drawing random figures that could express her thoughts. She thought, her love and passion for art all started there; that’s why she chose “Tita Halaman” as her artist name.

She wears her wavy hair long, dyed earthy green hues ranging from olive to yellow-green. Aside from painting and sculpture, each artwork has its own original, dedicated handwritten poem beside every framed canvas, describing poetically a sad yet hopeful story or pain translated to courage scenario through her own style of writing. She does this to highlight a more intimate communication to her audience as she shares the artist’s raw point of view and some narratives that can truly inspire, as she herself is a huge fan and reader of self-help and poetry books and in fact, was a corporate trainer for three years specializing in motivation, leadership, and communication back then.

Moreover, she makes music too and some of her special works have their own musical piece with her stretched poem turned into lyrics with added melody and different elements through Tita Halaman’s playing of musical instruments. Her paintings with poems and songs are even available on Spotify, Apple Music, and all major streaming platforms worldwide using the paintings as cover art for each song. She also has performed already in New Frontier Theater, UP Fair, Rappler, Megaworld, Sofar Manila, and different known radio stations here and abroad, through her musician name, “No Lore”. “Visual art, music and poetry”, her three favorite things to do, combined.

With no formal background in the arts and working in Human Resources in the facet of Learning and Development specializing in motivation, leadership and communication for a known company in upscale Taguig, she’d spend her lunch breaks trawling the art galleries around the city. Here, she would ask away to her heart’s content about painting techniques, artist stories, art history, and how these all intersected. She laughs as she quips that perhaps the gallerists got annoyed that she’d ask and ask but end up not buying anything. “It all paid off in the end,” she beams.

Since starting a full-time art practice after leaving her corporate job, Tita Halaman has since exhibited in shows like Ateneo Art Gallery with its Marciano Galang Acquisition Prize, Philippine Taxonomic Initiative Auction etc. Then she became part of DF Art Agency’s roster of artists and did all sold out solo and group shows at Secret Fresh Ronac Art Center, Art Moments Jakarta, Art Fair Philippines, Alliance Français de Manille, Xavier Art Fest and many more.

New soil, firm roots

If trees had feelings, they probably are no stranger to letting go and trusting the wind, the rain, and the sun, as some seeds released may dry up or get eaten, while the lucky ones find the right soil. Regardless, the tree, the plant, continues to flower. And so it goes when in the middle of the pandemic, Tita Halaman found time to develop her art Instagram account, documenting not just the finished work but also the process, spills and all. “I didn’t make it to sell art or to exhibit,” she shares, “but to express myself.”

“I always wanted to be an artist,” she continues, her voice more energetic now, “when I was kid, I was shy and very quiet and preferred to fill my notebooks up with drawings. My parents were even worried that time. But I realized drawing was my way of communicating.”

When she turned nine, her dad bought her a drum kit and guitar, and that kicked off her interest in music. She played for many school bands then, and, at the height of the pre-social media internet, uploaded original songs.

A gallery messaged her, asking if she could produce work for an online exhibit whose proceeds would go help medical front liners. The wind led her seeds to the right soil, and Tita Halaman realized that “my art can help, can contribute to a problem we’re all facing.”

Through said online exhibit, people noticed her work and started messaging, a trickle, then a stream, then a torrent. She decided to quit her corporate job after DF Art Agency signed her in. With her own roots more watered and reaching deep into the soil, the sun warming her shoulders, she hasn’t looked back since.

Surviving droughts

Just like the Philippine summer, many creatives know to anticipate (but still dread) a season of creative block, and Tita Halaman is no exception. Queer Greek poet Konstanin Cavafy wrote, “when I tire of making art, I consume art,” and this best describes how Tita Halaman, well, waters her practice.

Scrolling through one’s phone has an ambivalent rep today, much like a legal vice, but if used intentionally, it can also be nourishing, and such is Tita Halaman maximizing the algorithm (especially in Instagram) to discover more art by other creatives.

She takes this offline and continues her gallery visits (if the staff recognize her, but for different reasons, how the tables turn!) and her calendar is not only full of her exhibits but those of other, no, fellow artists. Sumce to say, it’s just like how trees in a forest nourish each other.

Photo by Kim Escalona

She cites fellow artist Demi Padua as a good friend and major inspiration and one can see how they share a use of their character’s facial expressions incorporated with textured impasto element and touch of metallic colors. Padua visited one of Halaman’s exhibits: Talent recognizes talent.

Tita Halaman makes her own frame too, made out of kiln dry wood and clay. She delicately sculpts the clay on each corner of her shaped wood and then lock her canvas with the frame using screws and metal plates. “I want my frame to really look like it’s really handcrafted and human-made” as she applies the Japanese Wabi-sabi principle in her art, finding beauty in imperfection. After sculpting and drying the heavy durable clay, she finally does finger-painting with gold. This is her way to imprint herself in each piece.

Photo by Kim Escalona

Good terroir, good fruits, interconnected roots

Folk wisdom says all trees are connected by the earth holding all their roots, and science is gradually revealing the truths in such sayings.

Tita Halaman never truly turned her back on her first career, as emotional resilience, embracing pain, and emerging stronger and more beautiful is the end goal of her past work anyway. Such resonances manifest again through her creative universe. This is most seen in the titles of her art and their accompanying poems, as well as the lyrics of her songs, all accentuated by the visuals and musical composition.

Photo by Kim Escalona

Even before working in HR, she was very intentional about overcoming her shyness, turning to self- help books and acting on their advice. What really resonated was how pain is transformed, like waste, like refuse, into fertilizer. Emotional intelligence. Empathy.

Photo by Kim Escalona

The world today is in dire need of protecting green spaces, and it seems this applies to green spaces in the mind, too. At least in Tita Halaman’s multifaceted universe, the grass grows green, playing its part in a larger symphony.


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